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House Democrats to Facebook: 'Do more' about harassment and hate targeting women

The letter was co-signed by more than 60 international lawmakers.
Rep. Ocasio-Cortez participates in a House Financial Services Committee hearing with Facebook Chairman and CEO Mark Zuckerberg in Washington
Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez participates in a House Financial Services Committee hearing with Facebook chief executive Mark Zuckerberg on Oct. 23, 2019.Erin Scott / Reuters file

More than 30 House Democrats including Speaker Nancy Pelosi of California and Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York have signed a letter asking Facebook executives Mark Zuckerberg and Sheryl Sandberg to address hate speech targeting women — particularly for women candidates and political leaders.

“Women in politics face pervasive sexism, hate, harassment, and threats of violence on your platform that make it more difficult for them to succeed in public life,” the letter reads. “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.”

The letter adds to mounting pressure on Facebook to address disinformation and hate on its platform. The company has faced a massive advertising boycott protesting hate speech and misinformation. On Wednesday, twenty state attorneys general asked Facebook to limit hate speech and help the victims of harassment.

Facebook’s head of women’s safety, Cindy Southworth, said in a statement that the company "appreciated" the lawmakers who shared their personal stories and would "continue working with them to surface new solutions."

"Abuse of women on the internet is a serious problem, one we tackle in a variety of ways - through technology that identifies and removes potentially abusive content before it happens, by enforcing strict policies, and by talking with experts to ensure we stay ahead of new tactics," Southworth said.

Women in politics are targets of attacks including manipulated images, false news stories, doxxing and sexualized profiles, according to the letter, which was co-signed by more than 60 international lawmakers and sent to Facebook on Thursday.

“Much of the most hateful content directed at women on Facebook is amplified by your algorithms which reward extreme and dangerous points of view with greater reach and visibility creating a fertile breeding ground for bias to grow,” the letter says.

The letter asks Facebook to do more to remove posts and accounts that threaten or glorify violence against women, and remove hate speech targeting women, including violent, objectifying or dehumanizing speech. It also asks that Facebook remove manipulated images or videos misrepresenting women public figures.

Pelosi has been the target of two viral videos that were manipulated to make it appear as if she were drunk. Facebook added warnings to the videos but declined to remove them.

At a Thursday forum on misogyny and hate speech on social media organized by George Washington University, Rep. Jackie Speier, D-Calif., who led the letter, touched on the manipulated videos disparaging Pelosi and Facebook’s recent removal of a post by President Trump that spread misinformation about the coronavirus. She suggested the company was capable of acting on harmful content, but chooses not to.

Speier said she hoped the letter would result in a meeting with the Facebook executives to enforce existing policies, specifically calling on Sandberg, “as a feminist,” to take urgent action.

“She has got to appreciate the power that Facebook has,” Speier said.