People ‘feel safe’ using violent language on Facebook

The company admits that a lack of empathy on social media leads to abusive language

Facebook website on a computer screen

Facebook has admitted that people feel at ease using violent language on its platform, after new documents revealed the categories of content that Facebook does and does not find acceptable.

An investigation by The Guardian has exposed the company's standards for removing offensive material, including the fact that images of animal and child abuse do not have to be deleted unless the context is overtly sadistic.

The report has raised questions about how people behave on the platform, and what level of responsibility - if any - Facebook has to police the content they post.

According to internal training documents seen by The Guardian, Facebook's users feel safe using violent, threatening language to express their frustrations online. "People commonly express disdain or disagreement by threatening or calling for violence in generally facetious and unserious ways," it read. "They feel that the issue won't come back to them and they feel indifferent towards the person they are making the threats about because of the lack of empathy created by communication via devices as opposed to face to face."

According to Facebook, violent imagery and threats do not become serious enough to remove until they transition from "an expression of emotion" to "a plot or design". For example, statements like 'someone shoot Trump' would be eligible for deletion; 'let's beat up fat kids' would not.

Online abuse and harassment has become a persistent problem over the past few years, particularly on social media platforms like Facebook and Twitter, both of which have been faced with calls to crack down on hate speech and bullying. Twitter has responded with measures such as improved reporting tools and the retirement of the default 'egg' display picture.

"We feel responsible to our community to keep them safe and we feel very accountable. It's absolutely our responsibility to keep on top of it," Facebook's head of global policy management Monika Bickert told The Guardian. "It's a company commitment."

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