What would happen Facebook stopped allowing images like the ones used in this post and characterized them as hate speech? This is a screen capture taken for an article about misogyny in Facebook. When people protest images like these, they often become targets of rape threats.
Trista Hendren is a woman protesting rape humour and similarly themed material in Facebook. Hendren is one of six founders of a page created last Fall called Rapebook. Trolls targeted the page, which sometimes received between 100-500 messages, links, comments a day. Content that featured the very material,including child porn, cannibal porn, graphic rape, that the page was established to eliminate. I have seen some of these threats and cannot even begin to describe them or the images accompanying them. The site, filled with horrifying comments, is the best example of why it exists. The administrators worked with Facebook on a case by case basis as comments, posts and threats occurred, some days at the rate of anywhere between 100 and 500 times a day, according to the administrators. As is often the case in these situations, these interactions were very gendered. On one hand, a group of primarily men attacking, on other hand, a group of primarily women.
Facebook’s reporting structure is designed to assess whether or not threats are “credible” and if content violates the company’s terms. As this situation escalated, there several disagreements between Facebook and the women about both.
Setting aside for the purposes of this post the details of what Facebook’s role was or wasn’t in the build up of what is happening, the situation is that the purpose of threats is to provoke anxiety and change behavior and the threats the women received, particularly given the subject matter, did just that, even if Facebook did not find them credible.
People who objected to her activism and were comfortable violently attacking and threatening Hendren and other administrators in contravention of Facebook’s terms by claiming free speech rights. The definition of hate speech becomes important. Eventually they created a page called RapeRapeBook where they published at least two of the womens’ names, addresses, phone numbers and family details. Facebook took this down quickly, but the damage was done. Hendren and others kept a blog recording these events.
In addition to genuinely horrific and frightening threats, Hendren has gotten a constant stream of harassing calls at home, and assailants have moved to writing bad reviews of her book in Amazon. She has left Facebook in protest and taken security measures. Rapebook announced last night that the “Rapebook page will no longer be active on Facebook. This page has achieved what it was set up to do. It has shown that Facebook?s terms and conditions are null and void.” They believe that Facebook’s passive approach towards applying their own terms and conditions renders them useless.
The important thing to note is that what the trolls have done has been effective in many ways. One, they bullied their way into dominating the public space that is Facebook. People are hesitating to support Rapebook or even comment on related posts for fear that they will become targets themselves. Some of the admins no longer have Facebook accounts or are blocked.
“I don’t find jokes about raping and beating up children and women to be controversial. I don’t think there is that big of a gap between men who laugh about those things and men who beat and rape women,” explains Trista Hendren.
By it’s actions, or lack thereof, Facebook has made itself a space left more rape tolerant than rape intolerant as a result of her leaving.
The irony is not lost on people who note the theme and intent of Sheryl Sandberg’s, Facebook’s COO, recently released book, Lean In, advising women on how to not “leave the table.” Last week, this page was created: Sheryl Sandberg LEAN-In And Remove Misogyny from FB.
Here is Hendren explaining what happened. You can tweet in her defense using #SupportTrista and #LeanIn.