Facebook Tackles Anti-Gay Hate Speech

By Cindy Waxer October 18, 2010

In the wake of the suicides of several gay teenagers, Facebook has teamed up with a gay-advocacy group to reduce the amount of hate speech and bullying on the wildly popular online social network.

The Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation contacted Facebook last week after Internet bullies flooded a page set up to honor teens who recently killed themselves in response to anti-gay hate, according to an Associated Press report. Among these teens is Tyler Clementi, the 19-year-old Rutgers University freshman who jumped off the George Washington Bridge earlier this month after discovering his roommate secretly recorded him with another male student and distributed the video online.

In memory of the teenagers, a Facebook user set up a page, requesting that supporters wear purple on Wednesday in memory of the teenagers. Purple represents "spirit" in the rainbow flag that's the symbol of the gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender community.

According to Facebook, the company prohibits hateful content and that it has systems in place to take down such posts as soon as possible. "Facebook has taken an important first step in making social media a place where anti-gay violence is not allowed," said Jarrett Barrios, the president of GLAAD.

Nevertheless, Facebook must walk a fine line between free speech and censorship. Consider, for example, CompuServe, one of the first ISPs to be confronted with the issue of online hate speech when a user posted racist comments on an online discussion forum. The forum quickly became one of the most frequently visited on CompuServe. In response, CompuServe created user policies prohibiting people from posting racist or offensive comments. The result: it’s now standard practice for ISPs to require online users to adhere to acceptable user policies.

Similarly, Facebook’s handling of anti-gay bullying could pave the way for how social networks decide to handle online hate speech.

Edited by Tammy Wolf

TechZone360 Contributing Editor

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