Facebook says it's introduced new anti-bullying controls aimed at protecting people - especially public figures - who are being harassed by multiple accounts at once.
"We'll now remove more harmful content that attacks public figures, as well as provide more protections for public figures who have become famous involuntarily — like human rights defenders and journalists," Facebook global head of safety Antigone Davis wrote in a blog post this morning.
The move follows a number of recent examples of activity in Facebook comments sections being out of control.
The live comments under Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern's official Facebook Live feed have been repeatedly dominated by anti-vaxxers who abuse the PM and spread misinformation about Covid-19.
And earlier this month Seven Sharp co-host Hilary Barry, who was running a chocolate fish reward campaign to encourage people to get vaccinated, posted screen shots of the hail of personal abuse she was getting from anti-vaxxers on Facebook and Twitter. A lot of the abusive comments also contained misinformation about the pandemic. Barry earlier highlighted the repeated sexist abuse she receives on Facebook.
On September 28, Facebook pulled Instagram for Kids. The "pause" to the new platform, launched in March, came just days after an investigative series by The Wall Street Journal which reported that Facebook was aware, through its own internal research, that the use of Instagram by some teenage girls led to mental health issues and anxiety.
The Wall Street Journal series was based on internal Facebook documents leaked to the newspaper by an un-named ex-employee.
The whistleblower, Frances Haugen, later revealed her identity to the New York Times. And on October 5, she told a US Senate committee, "The documents I have provided to Congress prove that Facebook has repeatedly misled the public about what its own research reveals about the safety of children, the efficacy of its artificial intelligence systems and its role in spreading divisive and extreme messages."
Facebook says that Haugen's allegations are misleading.
Speaking to media after Haugen's testimony, Facebook vice-president of policy and public affairs Nick Clegg said, "Even with the most sophisticated technology, which I believe we deploy, even with the tens of thousands of people that we employ to try and maintain safety and integrity on our platform, we're never going to be absolutely on top of this 100 per cent of the time."
That's because of the "instantaneous and spontaneous form of communication" on Facebook, Clegg said, adding, "I think we do more than any reasonable person can expect to."
While Facebook's latest anti-harassment policy is aimed at public figures, the social network also reiterated today that it has comment reporting options available to all users.
If a Facebook user receives no reply, their options include complaining to the Ministry of Justice and Ministry of Education-backed Netsafe, which has lines of communication open to Facebook and other social media platforms.
Netsafe also runs the civil complaint process that is the first step toward legal action under the Harmful Digital Communications Act.
The agency's chief executive Martin Cocker said this morning, "Any new tools to combat abuse and harassment online are appreciated.
"At this stage, it's just a policy adjustment, and has to be interpreted and enacted before we can say how effective it will be," Cocker said.
He added, "There are a lot of people who achieve a high profile without any intention to do so, who then find themselves dealing with the abuse and harassment online that comes with that high profile. It is especially good to see moves like this that should provide more protection for them."
The Netsafe CEO has been in talks with policy reps from Facebook, Twitter, Google, TikTok and other companies, with a view to creating a new Online Safety Code of Practice.
This morning, Cocker said, "The project has progressed well. We are on track for public consultation before the end of the year."
Facebook Australia-New Zealand did not immediately respond to a question about the average response time for those who used its online system to file a complaint.