5 things Facebook can do to reduce hateful content on its platform

Facebook is in the midst of a subtle reckoning.

As the culture at large experiences deep structural changes, many are left questioning whether the social media giant has earned any place in the current conversation of racial justice, free speech, and the fight against hate groups.

While many at the leadership level of Facebook make a point of being seen as progressive and sympathetic to the movements they profess to support, it can be hard for any of that to ring true when their platform is a haven for white supremacist groups, conspiracy theorists and death threat factories.

Recently Facebook released the results of its independent audit, a report two years in the making that outlines clearly how Facebook has failed on civil rights. The report found that the companies reaction to hate speech, bias, polarization, and diversity was grievously lacking. According to the report, the company has categorically failed to remove a deluge of hate groups and abusers on the platform.



Rashad Robinson, the president of Color of Change, had some blunt words regarding the company, "Ridding the platform of hate and misinformation against Black people only became a priority when there was a PR crisis to endure"

Concerning the report, Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg said that the company "won't make every change they call for," but that Facebook leadership "will put more of their proposals into practice."

As the company scrambles to steer their enormity back into the good graces of a rapidly suspicious public, the question remains - what can Facebook do to be better?

Here are 5 things.

One - Commit to preventing data breaches

Starting with Cambridge Analytica, a UK-based consultancy with sinister ties to the 2016 election, Facebook has a dismal track record of policing bad actors on the platform - this particular one collected and used the data of tens of thousands of Facebook's more than 2 billion users for various nefarious outcomes. This was followed by a breach that affected 50 million people on the site, and after that another breach that compromised the data of 29 million people, including phone numbers, names, email addresses and for many, dates of birth.

Facebook must put in place a more formidable security apparatus instead of simply apologizing when a litany of breaches take place.

Two - Honestly communicate with its biggest critics

From the beginning Facebook has taken a dim view of those who do not share the view that they are the greatest social fabric weaver of the modern world. For many who have taken issue with their countless gaffes and failures, Facebook is woefully lacking in humility and the desire to listen to their members. From enabling ethnic cleansing in Myanmar to allowing Nazis to organize and sell merchandise on their platform, Facebook has systematically demonstrated an utter lack of self awareness.

By bringing together the voices of those calling for changes in their company, and simply listening to their grievances, much could be achieved if only Facebook leadership would lend an ear without being dragged into the process unwillingly for PR.

Three - Listen.

In order to understand the deeper issues inherent in the companies approach to their practices, a good person to listen to is Rashad Robinson. Robinson is the executive director of Color of Change, the country's largest racial-justice organization, and one of the people who organized the high-profile advertising boycott that shook Facebook in July.

As described on a recent podcast, "he was part of a meeting with Facebook executives about the July ad boycott of Facebook, to discuss the demands he and those companies have made to the social-media platform. Mark Zuckerberg and Sheryl Sandberg were on the call, and he was not impressed by Zuckerberg's performance."

He relays how in the meeting, Facebook executives were repeatedly praising themselves saying how "They're so much better. They're working so much harder. They have done things that other folks won't do."

He says, "This is the kind of constant line. At some point, someone in the meeting said, "So, I guess what you're saying is that you're doing everything right and that we're just crazy." They're like, "No, no, that's not what we're saying." I'm like, "Well, what are you saying?"

A corporate culture of viewing outsiders as assailants instead of welcome and constructive voices has hindered the companies growth, and has harmed the level of trust they can be given.

Four - Take a stand.

Corporate cowardice and a strategy of aiming to please all users has paralyzed Facebook and left it in a quagmire of its own vague indecision. By attempting to be utterly impartial, the company has ensured that the platform has become a safe haven for dangerous misinformation, political influence, hateful rhetoric, abuse, death threats, medical malpractice and more.

In order for Facebook to enjoy the privileges of a company welcomed by the culture and accepted by users as trustworthy, it is vital that they cobble together some semblance of a value system.

At this point in the life cycle of the platform, it's almost impossible to see what, if anything, the company believes in other than being an open playing field for false information, conspiracy theories and racist memes.

Facebook must clearly delineate what they do and do not stand for.

Five - Empower new voices.

While Facebook has made great strides in ensuring their new hires are reflective of the changes so desperately needed at the company - it's vital that these are not merely symbolic positions.

Those who have a new vision for how the company can be better must be empowered to implement those plans. Too often a company will ride the praise escalator when hiring a newly created position that promises change, yet relegate that person to a headline in an email to a PR agency.

Facebook must be prepared to utilize their new talent, and be bold when deciding just how much they're willing to change in order to be the company they profess to actually be.

Courtesy of Amita Swadhin
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In 2016, Amita Swadhin, a child of two immigrant parents from India, founded Mirror Memoirs to help combat rape culture. The national storytelling and organizing project is dedicated to sharing the stories of LGBTQIA+ Black, indigenous people, and people of color who survived child sexual abuse.

"Whether or not you are a survivor, 100% of us are raised in rape culture. It's the water that we're swimming in. But just as fish don't know they are in water, because it's just the world around them that they've always been in, people (and especially those who aren't survivors) may need some help actually seeing it," they add.

"Mirror Memoirs attempts to be the dye that helps everyone understand the reality of rape culture."

Amita built the idea for Mirror Memoirs from a theater project called "Undesirable Elements: Secret Survivors" that featured their story and those of four other survivors in New York City, as well as a documentary film and educational toolkit based on the project.

"Secret Survivors had a cast that was gender, race, and age-diverse in many ways, but we had neglected to include transgender women," Amita explains. "Our goal was to help all people who want to co-create a world without child sexual abuse understand that the systems historically meant to help survivors find 'healing' and 'justice' — namely the child welfare system, policing, and prisons — are actually systems that facilitate the rape of children in oppressed communities," Amita continues. "We all have to explore tools of healing and accountability outside of these systems if we truly want to end all forms of sexual violence and rape culture."

Amita also wants Mirror Memoirs to be a place of healing for survivors that have historically been ignored or underserved by anti-violence organizations due to transphobia, homophobia, racism, xenophobia, and white supremacy.

Amita Swadhin

"Hearing survivors' stories is absolutely healing for other survivors, since child sexual abuse is a global pandemic that few people know how to talk about, let alone treat and prevent."

"Since sexual violence is an isolating event, girded by shame and stigma, understanding that you're not alone and connecting with other survivors is alchemy, transmuting isolation into intimacy and connection."

This is something that Amita knows and understands well as a survivor herself.

"My childhood included a lot of violence from my father, including rape and other forms of domestic violence," says Amita. "Mandated reporting was imposed on me when I was 13 and it was largely unhelpful since the prosecutors threatened to incarcerate my mother for 'being complicit' in the violence I experienced, even though she was also abused by my father for years."

What helped them during this time was having the support of others.

"I'm grateful to have had a loving younger sister and a few really close friends, some of whom were also surviving child sexual abuse, though we didn't know how to talk about it at the time," Amita says.

"I'm also a queer, non-binary femme person living with complex post-traumatic stress disorder, and those identities have shaped a lot of my life experiences," they continue. "I'm really lucky to have an incredible partner and network of friends and family who love me."

"These realizations put me on the path of my life's work to end this violence quite early in life," they said.

Amita wants Mirror Memoirs to help build awareness of just how pervasive rape culture is. "One in four girls and one in six boys will be raped or sexually assaulted by the age of 18," Amita explains, "and the rates are even higher for vulnerable populations, such as gender non-conforming, disabled, deaf, unhoused, and institutionalized children." By sharing their stories, they're hoping to create change.

"Listening to stories is also a powerful way to build empathy, due to the mirror neurons in people's brains. This is, in part, why the project is called Mirror Memoirs."

So far, Mirror Memoirs has created an audio archive of BIPOC LGBTQI+ child sexual abuse survivors sharing their stories of survival and resilience that includes stories from 60 survivors across 50 states. This year, they plan to record another 15 stories, specifically of transgender and nonbinary people who survived child sexual abuse in a sport-related setting, with their partner organization, Athlete Ally.

"This endeavor is in response to the more than 100 bills that have been proposed across at least 36 states in 2021 seeking to limit the rights of transgender and non-binary children to play sports and to receive gender-affirming medical care with the support of their parents and doctors," Amita says.

In 2017, Mirror Memoirs held its first gathering, which was attended by 31 people. Today, the organization is a fiscally sponsored, national nonprofit with two staff members, a board of 10 people, a leadership council of seven people, and 500 members nationally.

When the pandemic hit in 2020, they created a mutual aid fund for the LGBTQIA+ community of color and were able to raise a quarter-million dollars. They received 2,509 applications for assistance, and in the end, they decided to split the money evenly between each applicant.

While they're still using storytelling as the building block of their work, they're also engaging in policy and advocacy work, leadership development, and hosting monthly member meetings online.

For their work, Amita is one of Tory's Burch's Empowered Women. Their donation will go to Mirror Memoirs to help fund production costs for their new theater project, "Transmutation: A Ceremony," featuring four Black transgender, intersex, and non-binary women and femmes who live in California.

"I'm grateful to every single child sexual survivor who has ever disclosed their truth to me," Amita says. "I know another world is possible, and I know survivors will build it, together with all the people who love us."

To learn more about Tory Burch and Upworthy's Empowered Women program visit https://www.toryburch.com/empoweredwomen/. Nominate an inspiring woman in your community today!

Photo by R.D. Smith on Unsplash

Gem is living her best life.

If you've ever dreamed of spontaneously walking out the door and treating yourself a day of pampering at a spa without even telling anyone, you'll love this doggo who is living your best life.

According to CTV News, a 5-year-old shepherd-cross named Gem escaped from her fenced backyard in Winnipeg early Saturday morning and ended up at the door of Happy Tails Pet Resort & Spa, five blocks away. An employee at the spa saw Gem at the gate around 6:30 a.m. and was surprised when they noticed her owners were nowhere to be seen.

"They were looking in the parking lot and saying, 'Where's your parents?'" said Shawn Bennett, one of the co-owners of the business.

The employee opened the door and Gem hopped right on in, ready and raring to go for her day of fun and relaxation.

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When a pet is admitted to a shelter it can be a traumatizing experience. Many are afraid of their new surroundings and are far from comfortable showing off their unique personalities. The problem is that's when many of them have their photos taken to appear in online searches.

Chewy, the pet retailer who has dedicated themselves to supporting shelters and rescues throughout the country, recognized the important work of a couple in Tampa, FL who have been taking professional photos of shelter pets to help get them adopted.

"If it's a photo of a scared animal, most people, subconsciously or even consciously, are going to skip over it," pet photographer Adam Goldberg says. "They can't visualize that dog in their home."

Adam realized the importance of quality shelter photos while working as a social media specialist for the Humane Society of Broward County in Fort Lauderdale, Florida.

"The photos were taken top-down so you couldn't see the size of the pet, and the flash would create these red eyes," he recalls. "Sometimes [volunteers] would shoot the photos through the chain-link fences."

That's why Adam and his wife, Mary, have spent much of their free time over the past five years photographing over 1,200 shelter animals to show off their unique personalities to potential adoptive families. The Goldbergs' wonderful work was recently profiled by Chewy in the video above entitled, "A Day in the Life of a Shelter Pet Photographer."