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Facebook’s new tools make it harder to be a serial harasser on the platform

Facebook’s new tools make it harder to be a serial harasser on the platform
[Photo: Jaap Arriens/NurPhoto via Getty Images]

Facebook today is unveiling new ways to protect its users from harassment. The two big changes focus on trying to protect victims while not provoking the harasser.

One of the fixes allows users to ignore messages rather than full-on blocking them. This means that targets of harassment don’t have to receive hateful messages in their inbox, but they can still keep tabs on escalating threats by checking this other folder.

Oftentimes, says Antigone Davis, Facebook’s head of safety, people don’t want to block their harassers for fear of retribution. They also may want to keep tabs on the other person. This tool, says Davis, gives the “ability to see if this person is trying to reach out and what they are saying.”

The other new tool tries to crack down on fake accounts made by a blocked harasser. If an account gets blocked, the person may make a new fake account to continue harassing. Facebook now tries to determine if new accounts are from a formerly blocked user and stops them from being able to contact the person who had originally blocked them (fake accounts are against Facebook’s terms of service).

According to Davis, there are a variety of signals that indicate if a new account is from an old harasser. “The one that’s most easily understood,” he says, is the IP address. There are many other digital hints that indicated whether a new account is from a formerly blocked individual.

Davis says that Facebook has spent the last 18 months gathering feedback from hundreds of experts and organizations around the globe that focus on online harassment. The two most targeted groups are women and journalists, and her team has been working to build safeguards specifically for them. She says that Facebook will continue discussing safety with experts and rolling out new tools.

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