Facebook has been rightfully criticized for how it has handled (or not handled) harassment and abuse in the past. But today, the company announced a couple of new tools aimed at fighting online harassment and giving users more control over who can interact with them.
First, when someone blocks an account on Facebook, the harasser can often just make a new account and continue to go after the person who blocked their original one. Now, that should be a little more difficult because the site will use a number of different signals including IP addresses to recognize new accounts from previously blocked individuals and prevent them from messaging or sending a friend request to the person who blocked them.
Secondly, users will now be able to ignore a conversation in their messages, which will move it to the Filtered Messages folder. Users can then read the conversation without the sender having seen that they've done so. This is a tool that groups working with survivors of domestic violence have said would be quite useful as it would allow people to monitor any ongoing risks of abuse and deter offline harassment stemming from blocking an abuser on Facebook. This feature is now available for one-on-one conversations and Facebook says it will be rolling it out to group messages soon.
Social networks haven't consistently done well when it comes to preventing online abuse. Among the recent missteps that have occured include Twitter's decision to leave Rob Kardashian's account active after he posted revenge porn, multiple video streams of violence being posted on Facebook and Facebook's suspensions of Shaun King's and Ijeoma Oluo's accounts after they posted images of online harassment that they had received. In Oluo's case, she said there wasn't even an option to report the abuse she was receiving through the Facebook app and when she did report the harassment, Facebook didn't do anything about it.
There have been recent attempts to rectify the growing online harassment problem, though there's still plenty of room for improvement. Facebook has worked to stop ads targeted at racists and given parents more tools to prevent online bullying. Twitter has updated its anti-abuse measures a few times this year, though it has a very big problem with not enforcing rules in a consistent manner.
The new features Facebook launched today are good steps in the fight against online abuse and hopefully 2018 will see quite a few more.