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Facebook updates policies to protect against mass harassment, attacks on public figures

The new policies will also apply to people who involuntarily became public figures.

Facebook social media app
Facebook's updated policies will protect people from coordinated harassment efforts. 
James Martin/CNET

Facebook is making changes to its harassment and bullying policies that are intended to protect people facing online abuse, as hate and harassment continue to be problems on many social media sites. 

The company says it will remove targeted, coordinated efforts at mass harassment if there's a risk for harm offline against anyone, even if the content doesn't violate other policies. Facebook will also remove any content, including direct messages, comments and posts. The updated policy includes removing Groups and Pages that work together to harass or bully anyone.

The changes were unveiled on Wednesday, which is also National Bullying Prevention and Awareness Day.  

An Anti-Defamation League survey published in March found that about 41% of American said they experienced some type of online hate and harassment, while 21% reported facing "severe online harassment" such as stalking, physical threats or doxing. Respondents experienced the most harassment on Facebook, followed by Twitter, Facebook-owned Instagram and Google-owned YouTube, according to the survey.

"It's important that everyone on our apps feels safe to engage and connect with their communities. We do not allow bullying and harassment on our platform, but when it does happen, we act," Antigone Davis, Facebook's global head of security, shared in a news release. 

To shape the updates, Facebook met with global stakeholders including female politicians, representatives of the LGBTQ community and content creators.   

Facebook's changes are also expected to give more protection to public figures and those who involuntarily became public figures, like human rights advocates and journalists. Facebook will remove "degrading or sexualized attacks" on public figures, including profiles, pages, groups and images that sexualize them. Unwanted comments can also be removed at the individual's request.

The company said that it will continue to make changes to its policies as needed. It has also been looking for ways to reduce harassment on its other platforms. Earlier this summer, Instagram began testing a new Limits feature that lets users temporarily pause interactions if they feel harassed or targeted. 

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