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7 Dec 2023

Global Witness

Report alleges social media platforms approve violent misogynistic hate speech ads targeting women journalists in South Africa

"Facebook, X/Twitter, YouTube and TikTok approve violent misogynistic hate speech adverts for publication in South Africa", 7 December 2023

Facebook, X/Twitter, TikTok and YouTube all approved adverts featuring extreme and violent misogynistic hate speech against women journalists in South Africa, a new investigation by Global Witness and the South African public interest law firm, Legal Resources Centre (LRC) can reveal.

The investigation submitted 10 adverts containing hate speech targeting women journalists to Facebook/Meta, TikTok, X/Twitter and YouTube in four languages: English, Afrikaans, Xhosa, and Zulu (40 adverts total). The ads, based on real-world examples of abuse received by women journalists, were violent, sexualised and dehumanising, referring to women as vermin, prostitutes, or psychopaths and calling for them to be beaten and killed. They included statements such as “they’re just all sheep and should be slaughtered” and “they all need to die”.

Despite the extreme content of the adverts and the fact that they clearly breach the social media platforms’ own policies on hate speech, all four platforms approved the vast majority of the adverts...

None of the adverts were coded or difficult to interpret, and all followed the platforms’ definitions of prohibited hate speech. The adverts also included video footage that further breached the platforms’ policies on hate speech.

These findings come as a new global UN survey shows that the vast majority of people polled around the world are concerned about hate speech and disinformation on social media. Against this backdrop, journalists who identify as women are facing escalating threats online, both in South Africa and globally, with this violence often moving offline...

Ferial Haffajee, Associate Editor of the Daily Maverick and former Editor-at-large at HuffPost South Africa, said:

“As a female journalist in South Africa, I have been targeted and abused online, simply for doing my job. This has taken a huge toll on me and my loved ones. ..."

Hannah Sharpe, Digital Threats Campaigner at Global Witness, said:  

“In the age of the ‘manosphere’, women are under constant threat from misogynistic attacks online, and our investigation shows that platforms continue to enable and even profit from this hate speech.

To protect women and minoritised communities, press freedom, and democracy, together we have to challenge Big Tech’s predatory business model, in which billionaire social media CEOs are raking in huge sums through platforms designed to promote enraging, extreme and hateful content. ..."

In response to Global Witness’ investigation, a Meta spokesperson said: "These ads violate our policies and have been removed. ...”

A TikTok spokesperson said that hate has no place on TikTok and that their policies prohibit hate speech. They said that their auto-moderation technology correctly flagged the submitted advertisements as potentially violating their policies but a second review, by a human moderator, incorrectly overrode the decision.

Google and X/Twitter were approached for comment but did not respond.