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American Psychological Association Called on Facebook to Prohibit Hate Speech

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WASHINGTON — The American Psychological Association has called on Mark Zuckerberg to ban hate speech on Facebook, citing decades of scientific research demonstrating that such speech can cause significant psychological harm to the target audience, observers and society as a whole.

“We are asking Facebook to act as a leader and intervenor, as opposed to a bystander,” APA CEO Arthur C. Evans Jr., PhD, said in a letter (PDF, 24KB) to Facebook CEO Zuckerberg. “… Facebook’s sharing of hate speech not only traumatizes both the intended victim and observers but may also prompt those who see it to become more prejudiced. By not taking corrective action, Facebook is knowingly harming the welfare of consumers, employees and its shareholders.”

Evans pointed out numerous psychological studies showing that hate speech and discrimination “can undermine core executive functions and may have significant negative implications for performance in educational, employment and other settings.” Experiencing persistent hate speech “leads to people becoming numb to its use and lowers the perceived value and worth of the victims, increasing prejudice,” he wrote.

Citing the work of psychologist Dr. Ervin Staub, Evans asserted that hate speech can change the norms of organizations and communities. “When bystanders are silent or passive, it encourages harmful behavior,” according to Evans.

Among the actions APA is seeking, Facebook should:

  • Establish and empower a permanent civil rights infrastructure;
  • Create an internal mechanism to flag hateful content automatically;
  • Enable individuals who are targets of hate and harassment on Facebook to connect with a live Facebook employee.

“Taking these actions will stop spreading fear and feelings of low self-worth of the targets of hate speech by Facebook,” he wrote.

About APA

APA is the leading scientific and professional organization representing psychology in the United States, with more than 121,000 researchers, educators, clinicians, consultants and students as its members.

Our Work

Our mission is to promote the advancement, communication, and application of psychological science and knowledge to benefit society and improve lives. We do this by:

  • Utilizing psychology to make a positive impact on critical societal issues.
  • Elevating the public’s understanding of, regard for, and use of psychology. 
  • Preparing the discipline and profession of psychology for the future. 
  • Strengthening APA’s standing as an authoritative voice for psychology.

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