Facebook Allows Users to Call for the Death of Public Figures



Facebook’s bullying and harassment policy explicitly allows for “public figures” to be targeted in ways otherwise banned on the site, including “calls for [their] death”, The Guardian reported. The information comes from internal moderator guidelines that were leaked to The Guardian.

In short, it appears that Facebook thinks it is acceptable to allow public figures to be abused on their platform, including with death threats, simply because the company considers the person to be a public figure. I’m not sure why anyone who fits that definition would stay on Facebook. It seems dangerous.

The company’s definition of public figures is broad. All politicians count, whatever the level of government and whether they have been elected or are standing for office, as does any journalist who is employed “to write/speak publicly”.

Online fame is enough to qualify provided the user has more than 100,000 fans or followers on one of their social media accounts. Being in the news is enough to strip users of protections.

In addition, people who are mentioned in the title, subtitle, or preview of 5 or more news articles or media pieces within the last 2 years are counted as public figures.

Children who are under the age of 13 are never counted as public figures. That description is troubling, as it implies that teenagers 13 or older – who Facebook considers to be a public figure – can be targeted for death threats. That’s definitely not acceptable!

The internal moderator documents state that private individuals cannot be targeted with “calls for death” on Facebook. This is not so for those Facebook considers to be public figures.

According to The Guardian, public figures cannot be “purposefully exposed” to “calls for death”. What does that mean? The documents indicate that calling for the death of a local minor celebrity is acceptable to Facebook so long as the user who is making the threat does not tag the person whom they are threatening.

There are problems with that practice. Obviously, the public person who is the target of a death threat is unlikely to see it unless they have been tagged in the post. That leaves them at risk if the private person who wants them dead decides to act on it offline.

Once Facebook considers a person to be a “public figure” – it sticks. There does not appear to be a way to discover if you are considered one, which makes it impossible to have that designation removed by Facebook.


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