Facebook opens door to abuse of women

Facebook’s community standards allow women to be abused and threatened, especially when that abuse is not in English. 

This is according to Lani Wendt Young, a Samoan writer, editor, publisher and journalist, who was invited by Netsafe NZ to speak at the 2018 Trans-Tasman Netsafe Crossroads Conference held in Auckland, New Zealand recently.  

Ms. Young spoke on being a victim of online abuse on Facebook, and her efforts to report abusive content, to seek help from Netsafe and also from the New Zealand Police. 

In her presentation, she condemned the content host for prioritising profits over ethical accountability, and giving abusers a free platform to hurt and terrorise people. She also called out the New Zealand Police, and the shortfalls in New Zealand legislation, the Harmful Digital Communications Act. 

“Their moderators (Facebook) are either overworked or just don’t care. Does Facebook employ any Pacific Islanders who are fluent in any of our languages? If not, then how can they possibly monitor the widespread abuse taking place in Samoan/Pasifika pages,” Ms. Young said. 

“When seeking to understand Pasifika cultural norms and values in online spaces – it’s essential to know that as with other collectivist cultures, we are never just individuals. It’s not ‘me’; it’s always ‘us’. 

“I speak from the perspective of a Samoan woman, but I believe that the dynamic is very similar for other Pacific Islanders. We are our parents, grandparents, extended family, our village, and our church congregations. And when we go online, we carry those connections with us. For a Samoan, using their real name, going online is like being in a village and the internet is a very small place.

“This means that the public shaming associated with online abuse, is amplified many times over when you are Samoan, because everyone knows everyone, because an attack on the individual is an attack on the extended family. Our shame is not ours alone, but our families, and our proverbial village. The impact of that shame is so very powerful and suffocating. We can’t just block, delete and ignore online abuse because it has very real impact on our village outside the internet.”

Ms. Young said she reported abusive content to Facebook many times and was told repeatedly, that the abuse did not breach their community standards. 

“In April, I walked into a police station with a folder of 800+ screenshots of online abuse that included rape and death threats. The first officer I spoke to said: ‘Why don’t you just change your name on Facebook then they can’t find you anymore?’ When I persisted, she said: ‘What do you expect us to do about it?’ Even the FBI can’t make Facebook do anything” While the officer had heard of the Harmful Digital Communications Act, she was unfamiliar with what it covered,” Ms. Young said. 

She said the New Zealand Police lack clear knowledge and understanding about the Harmful Digital Communications Act and they should learn more about the impact of online abuse and how to better attend to victims who want to report.

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