Social media is something of a mess, what with all of the trolls and bots and all the fake news and crazy family members. Well, now a social media giant is trying to do something about it. In an attempt to prevent trolling and harassment, you can now block friend requests on Facebook. That's just one of several new measures the company announced in its ongoing attempts to make the website a safer, more enjoyable experience.
The social media giant announced these much-desired changes on Tuesday, Dec. 19 after consulting with both Facebook users and organizations that represent groups that disproportionately experience harassment, such as women and journalists.
Facebook will use signals such as IP addresses to prevent "fake or inauthentic" accounts from harassing users, according to TechCrunch. The site illustrated the importance of this: if you've blocked someone, Facebook's new feature should prevent that person from contacting you via an alternate or newly created account by determining that it the message or request is being sent from the same IP address (among other signals Facebook is using, which it didn't specify).
So this hopefully means goodbye to being spammed by alternate accounts, and goodbye to having to continually block one person over and over again. That means less time having to deal with trolls. Praise the lord.
Antigone Davis, Facebook's Global Head of Safety, wrote in a blog post explaining the move,
We’ve heard stories from people who have blocked someone only to encounter the same harasser using a different account. In order to help prevent those bad encounters, we are building on existing features that prevent fake and inauthentic accounts on Facebook... These automated features help us identify fake accounts more quickly and block millions of them at registration every day.
And, Davis continued, the additional features, which use IP addresses and other signals should, theoretically, help Facebook prevent event more of "those bad encounters."
While Facebook already has community standards to prevent harassment and bullying, that, according to experts, wasn't enough. Beyond blocking friend requests, users will be able to to ignore conversations, disabling notifications and moving them into the filtered messages folder. Right now, that feature only works for one-on-one messaging, but Facebook is working on a similar feature for group messaging.
This is yet another signal that Facebook is trying to tackle the very real problem of harassment and abuse on its website (which is, admittedly, not unique to Facebook, but is a feature of all social media websites).
But whether or not this will be successful remains to be seen.
After all, Facebook has made some large promises to fix some of their worst features this year — and has struggled to maintain those problems. Fake news, for example, has proliferated on the website for years, and even reportedly influenced the outcome of the 2016 U.S. presidential election. But Facebook's proposed solution — a feature which tags posts as "disputed by third-party fact-checkers" — has had a negligible effect. And that small feature only came after CEO Mark Zuckerberg apologized after initially mocking fears of fake news on Facebook.
And despite publishing their internal policies on harassment and abuse in an attempt to be more transparent, Facebook has not been faring too well when it comes to removing hate groups.
Pacific Standard's David Perry has reported a virulently antisemitic group — which, under Facebook's community standards, is banned for promoting targeted hate speech — every few months for years. The group is still up and running on Facebook. (Twitter is similarly slow to ban people, though they have started a "purge" of alt-right and neo-Nazi accounts in an attempt to stymy harassment and abuse.)
But, hey, something is better than nothing. And even if it doesn't work, you can block Mark Zuckerberg now. It's the little things.