Photo: AP

Facebook is partnering with civil rights organizations to combat revenge porn on its platforms. The company announced Wednesday that it is rolling out a hashing system in the US, Canada, and the UK to block explicit photos from being shared on Facebook, Messenger, and Instagram, including in private group chats. The catch, however, is striking: Users will first have to share the images with Facebook.

As explained in Facebook’s accompanying blog post, users will be encouraged to proactively upload their sensitive images to block them from being shared on Instagram, Facebook, and Messenger. US Facebook users will be able to access a submission form from either the Cyber Civil Rights Initiative or The National Network to End Domestic Violence. The user will then be emailed a secure link, directing them to upload the intimate photos. Facebook says the images are reviewed by “one of a handful of specifically trained members of our Community Operations Safety Team,” who creates a unique hash for the image, blocking all uploads if Facebook detects that same image.

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Facebook says the uploaded images are deleted from its servers within seven days.

It may be reassuring to hear that only “one” member will review the photos, but the blog post doesn’t describe their training or what, specifically, they will do in the review. Further, the hashing system has limitations. For example, what if the victim doesn’t own explicit photos, but still suspects a former partner is passing around explicit images of them? In Facebook’s Australian pilot of the tool, parents could file hash requests on behalf of minor children, though Wednesday’s blogpost doesn’t mention if that’s the case.

The successes and failures of Facebook’s Australian pilot, particularly the feedback received from revenge porn victims, may offer valuable insights here. But Facebook hasn’t publicly commented on the initial feedback to the Australian pilot and, interestingly, the company has referred to the rollouts in the US, UK, and Canada as “pilots” as well.

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Revenge porn is an act of violence that has only recently been codified into law. Stopping the sharing of illicit images is crucial, but Facebook has certainly picked one hell of a time to roll this feature out. CEO Mark Zuckerberg spent Tuesday being grilled by European authorities about the company’s data missteps in the ongoing Cambridge Analytica scandal.

[Buzzfeed]