EU and US politicians: Facebook must do more to stop online sexism

US Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi speaks during a press conference on coronavirus stimulus relief legislation, on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC, USA, 6 August 2020. [Ting Shen/EPA/EFE]

Facebook Inc must step up and protect women in politics from threats of violence and sexism and hate on its platform, said a letter to the company from female members of the US Congress such as House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and top female politicians from the EU.

Facebook has been heavily criticized for its decision to not fact-check political ads, allowing the spread of misinformation on its platform, as well as over antitrust concerns and privacy practices. The platform also came under fire for not removing a doctored video of Pelosi last year.

“We are imploring Facebook to do more to protect the ability of women to engage in democratic discourse and to foster a safe and empowering space for women,” said the letter, led by US Representative Jackie Speier, a Democrat who is also co-chair of the Democratic Women’s Caucus.

The lawmakers are asking Facebook to remove posts that threaten candidates or glorify violence against women, eliminate hate speech targeting women, and remove manipulated videos, images and offending accounts. The letter was addressed to Facebook Chief Executive Mark Zuckerberg and Chief Operating Officer Sheryl Sandberg on Thursday.

Social media has become the No. 1 place in which psychological violence – in the form of sexist and misogynistic remarks, humiliating images, mobbing, intimidation and threats – is perpetrated against female parliamentarians, the letter added, citing a study by the Inter-Parliamentary Union, an independent organization promoting democracy.

Cindy Southworth, Facebook’s head of women’s safety, said in a statement that the abuse of women on the internet is a serious problem and the company tackles it in many ways.

It includes using technology that identifies and removes potentially abusive content before it happens, by enforcing strict policies, and by talking with experts to ensure Facebook stays ahead of new tactics, she added.

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