What Facebook Continues To Tell Us About Violence Against Women

Note: A) This post contains strong language and graphic descriptions. B) This is long, because this topic is complicated and difficult and cannot be reduced to 800 words. C) There is not “overkilling” this topic.

There is a photograph being shared in Facebook of a woman cowering in a corner, eyes downcast, as large man standing in the foreground swings his fist at her head. The caption reads, “Women deserve equal rights. And lefts.”

AT&T, American Express, Cubesmart and Ancestry.com are among the page’s sponsors today.

This image has been reported to Facebook repeatedly. Their response is: “Thanks for your report. We reviewed the photo you reported, but found it doesn’t violate Facebook’s Community Standard on hate speech, which includes posts or photos that attack a person based on their race, ethnicity, national origin, religion, sex, gender, sexual orientation, disability, or medical condition.”

The “joke” isn’t offensive.  What is offensive is fact that the infliction of pain on girls and women –pain inflicted because they are female – is entertaining and acceptable. As with rape humor, domestic violence humor reduces girls and women to their body parts and communicates that we are violable for other people’s purposes and entertainment.  Helpless and full of shame. At the same times, this content perpetuates harmful stereotypes about what makes men “real” – violence, control, infliction of pain on others, lack of empathy, never weak or helpless.  This is our culture of cruelty and domination.  Its how we teach boys and girls to be.  Not Facebook’s problem, I know.

Timeline Photos_Page_1

But, imagine a photograph of a gay or African American man standing under a tree with noose hanging from a branch and some white guys standing nearby laughing with the caption, “Hanging out!” Because I don’t know how this is different.

A few months ago, a Facebook spokesperson explained that, “Having the freedom to debate serious issues like this is how we fight prejudice.” Maybe this images and others like it are biting social satire? An entrée into incisive debate about a controversial social problem.  Here are parts of the debate (let’s call it, “When is raping, beating and brutalizing girls and women funny?”) over this image taken from more than 300 comments (photo has more than 5,000 likes).

  • “I don’t care what anyone says if a woman deserves to be hit than hit her. there a difference from being a beater and slapping a bitch when she needs it. there probably wouldn’t be some many loud mouth bitches or sluts if they got slapped up when needed.and keep in mind I’m a woman saying this.

  • “And same goes for a man.sometimes people need to be hit.”

  • “It’s a joke. Everyone knows beating up a wife/husband is wrong.”

  • “Stop with this shit Women already have more rights then men so stfu.”

  • “Feminism at this point is the fat kid who wamts both cake and pie and can choose one so they cry and whine till they get both. Its to support women to the equal status as men yet they treat guys as unequal. Want to be equal then treat both sides the same.”

  • “im not a girl… but they deserve = rights.. if i known that guy id kick hes ass…”

  • “Equal rights are equal rights, bitches can’t be picky about what they want and don’t want for them.”

  • “Not the worst thing I’ve seen on the internet. Pretty silly tho. Domestic violence happens to men too, and pretending it’s just a female problem furthers the stigma men have in speaking out against the violence they experience. So for all the guys who are like “Hyurr durr, this is funny, feminists can gtfo”, remember: you are entitled to equal rights, lefts, and up-one-side-down-the-others, too.”

  • “Dont hit women. Ignore them. Its a lot worse then hitting them.”

  • “You know… not all women are whores, I mean you’ve got to know that because abusing women or children is not right!”

  • “You ‘feminists’ need to pull your heads out of your asses and accept that you deserve a beating if you fucking provoked it, stop acting like such victims all the fucking time.”

  • “IF YOU’VE EVER BEEN IN AN ABUSIVE RELATIONSHIP and you are reading this: Don’t worry, you are not alone in believing that this is false and horrible. If Facebook had a “DISLIKE” button, there would be far more dislikes than likes. Abuse is always wrong. Demand better of yourself and others. Love, forgive, and don’t accept violent behavior in others.”

What is interesting is that rape and beating women up is controversial, normalized and “debatable,” in a way that targeted violence against other marginalized and minority groups no longer is to most “reasonable” people. That’s why I keep making the point that this isn’t about censorship or law, but about norms. Pro and anti comments were fairly equally split between self-identified male and female commenters.  That’s why I keep making the point that this isn’t a battle of men versus women, but worldviews.

People are so inured to images, tv shows, movies, music, memes and advertising that use violence against women for entertainment that most people don’t even think about it as real. And while maybe 12 celebrities today can make pointed rape jokes in ways that reveal the horror of rape’s reality or the ugliness and pain of living with daily domestic violence, most people can’t. Instead, content like this usually mocks victims and glorifies abusers and violence in general. Facebook makes no such distinction.  So here, as elsewhere, violence against women and girls becomes a fiction, a fantasy, something they watch as they rack up points in a game, enjoy a drink or eat dinner.  This isn’t “offensive,” it’s an atrocity.  While we do everything possible to hunt down two violent young men terrorizing a city, we willfully ignore the daily violence that people are subjected to in their own homes every day in acts of individual terrorism.

The only way to tear this culture down is to object to it every time you encounter it.

Facebook moderators contact authorities about real instances of violence and crime every day.   As others and I have written before, “Not real” content depicting rape and the physical abuse of girls and women is often categorized by Facebook as [Humor] and frequently surfaces in the news. For example, a recent photograph of a man carrying a limp girl with the caption, “ Rohyphnol: When Traditional Dating Methods Just Aren’t Cutting it!” or the page “I Love the Rape Van.Facebook has a detailed and thorough process for handling complaints about this sort of material and is on the record saying that it is not in the business of defining and changing culture, or interested in policing free speech. This is false. Facebook does both of these things simply through the process of reviewing and editing pages created and by having a reporting structure for complains. The company has actually been lauded for its approach in other situations.

Of course, it may simply be that objectionable pages and content appear in Facebook in proportion to the rate of their production by users.  The point remains however:  Facebook has terms, conditions and guidelines.  By default that makes Facebook and arbiter and interpreter of norms whether it cares to be or not.

Last week I wrote a piece in the Guardian, Facebook’s Big Misogyny Problem, about what has been happening to the administrators of a page called Rapebook, and an Everyday Sexism Project initiative to raise advertisers’ awareness that their ads are showing up in Facebook on pages featuring violence against women. What happened after Rapebook perfectly illustrates why it was created in the first place.

“At first, people started posting pictures of women and young girls being raped or beat up and commenting on the page saying things like, “I will skull-fuck your children,” explains Trista Hendren, one of the page’s founding administrators, who became the target violent threats and daily graphic abuse on the site.

Within days of its creation, the site was the target of trolls, Facebook users themselves, posting crude commentary, links to violent pornography and rape, Facebook pages depicting rape, including of babies, rape “humor,” malicious software links, and rape and death threats (for example, “ fuck that. hit that hoe,” and “Domestic violence is a 2 way street you hypocritical cunt.”) Personal information was shared online. Hendren’s picture was used to create rape memes.  After months of working closely with Facebook, to mixed results, Hendren stopped using Facebook and Rapebook admins have shut the page down.  She is now working with the FBI.  This is not about “debate.” It is about silencing. Martha Nussbaum, a philosopher and professor of law at University of Chicago, squarely identifies similar incidences as gender-based hate crimes.

As I wrote last week, a common retort to all of this is, “This is the Internet. It’s offensive. If you don’t like it, leave.”  But, Facebook is NOT “the Internet.” That’s why it fascinates me – because it illustrates how norms work and how they can be challenged. Facebook has principles and community standards that create a reasonable expectation in users that it will enforce rules it itself has established in an unbiased manner.

In summary, what I said last week is this:

First, Facebook’s guidelines prohibit hate speech review process that does not recognize sex-based hate speech and its case-by-case approach cannot assess how an overall hostile environment (treating rape and violence against women literally as a joke or ignoring content that is viscerally threatening and desensitizing) is threatening, unsafe and harmful to users (male and female).

Second, girls and women, acculturated to a world where one in three women will be sexually assaulted (in the US, that number is one in five; for men, one in 77), cannot separate this reality from their online experiences. Domestic violence and homicide statistics reflect a similar epidemic.  This dynamic is reflected online, where more than 75% of targeted online abuse is aimed at women. Women experience and assess safety differently from men and Facebook’s policies do not take this into account.

Third, users employing sex-based hate language and images manipulate Facebook’s system and lack of introspection regarding sexist norms. Over and over images and language reducing girls and women to their body parts, their appearances, their pornographic and rape potential are deemed not credibly harmful and threatening, when studies demonstrate repeatedly that they are. In addition, almost all of the content related to rape and domestic violence jokes features women as victims, which perpetuate rape myths and deny the reality of male victims of abuse.

Fourth, what people like Hendren are protesting is not the result of easily mocked “hurt feelings” or “offensiveness,” but systemically tolerated hate, degradation, objectification and marginalization of girls and women, behind which loiters actual violence.  Minimizing their concerns (i.e. “they’re only trolls, it’s not a credible threat”) is a symptom of the very problem they are challenging. Threats provoke anxiety and change behavior – which makes them credible.

Fifth, it’s important to note that people who supported Rapebook’s efforts were unwilling to publicly show their support in Facebook, for fear of similar targeting and abuse. Hendren’s leaving Facebook, Rapebook’s closing and the hesitancy of people to support them publicly are actual losses of free speech for these users (overwhelmingly women) as the result of bullying, harassment and misogyny. Women and their male allies who are are disproportionately negatively harmed.

A new Facebook page was recently created, Sheryl Sandberg Lean-In And Remove Misogyny from FB. This page, like Rapebook, is an example of individual women doing exactly what Sandberg prescribes in her new book, Lean-In, but encountering overwhelming systemic obstacles and biased norms that prevent them from succeeding. It is not Sheryl Sandberg’s job to purge the world of misogyny or to singlehandedly equalize cultural norms being employed at Facebook. However, she is at the center of a perfect storm: In addition to being Facebook’s COO, and the author of Lean In, a corporate-power-feminist manifesto, Sandberg is on the board of VDAY. V-Day’s intent, ending violence against girls and women globally, is seriously undermined by Facebook’s unbalanced approach.

Individuals can communicate directly with Facebook by registering complaints using the Facebook option on every page, by engaging in “debate” when they encounter content that is hateful and by writing and speaking openly about these topics.  Facebook, I’d like to think, is doing the same.

Cover Photo via Memegenerator

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  • Clara Vaz

    I went, read all the comments. So depressing. The main point for me is that these issues with women are still believed and seen as being debatable. That maybe there are contexts when maybe this that or the other. Its so depressing. Thank you for your piece on this.

  • MLKJunya

    DEAR SORAYA – IF YOU’RE MAKING ARGUMENTS BASED ON THE PROTECTION AFFORDED TO ALLY GROUPS, RATHER THAN DIRECTLY ATTRIBUTING MISOGYNY TO PATRIARCHY THEN YOU ARE PART OF THE PROBLEM.

    “But, imagine a photograph of a gay or African American man standing under a tree with noose hanging from a branch and some white guys standing nearby laughing with the caption, “Hanging out!”

    • That is not at all what I am doing. I am making the point that Facebook inconsistently applies it’s principles when it comes to “hate.”

      • Funny how the only thing MLKJunya pointed out about this article was that sentence….says a lot. Thank you for this article. I appreciate your insight.

        • MLKJunya

          “Funny how the only thing MLKJunya pointed out about this article was that sentence…”.

          It’s funny that you responded with an undeveloped thought… The fact I read the article meant I had a genuine interest in the topic. I agree with her assertion that violence against women is overlooked in memes. But I don’t agree with calling out other equity seeking groups to prove her point.

      • MLKJunya

        I appreciate the clarification… stating that “inconsistency applies its principles when it comes to hate” much more different than implicating specific groups as being afforded more protection against hate than women.

        I agree with the premise of this article. However, violence against women is generally not a problem for those who are not directly affected by sexism. In my humble opinion, you do a disservice to the plight of feminism by singling out particular groups – It’s offensive to members of other equity seeking groups and makes the argument for women’s equity less palatable.

        • Helix Luco

          I agree with the premise of your comment. However, racial violence is generally not a problem for those who are not directly affected by racism. In my humble opinion, you do a disservice to the plight of anti-racism by singling out particular groups – It’s offensive to members of other equity seeking groups and makes the argument for racial equity less palatable.

  • Great piece. Thank you so much for writing and sharing it. It’s gone out to my facebook friends on my personal account.

  • marie

    The new facebook page you linked to has already been taking down. That didn’t take too long…sigh.

  • Scout

    Thank you for your article and your efforts to bring about awareness and change.

  • Amber McKay

    So if Facebook doesn’t listen what are we left with – leave and let the abusers keep it. Seems like Facebook needs to beheld accountable. Would a business owner in the real world not beheld to account if they new they had an issue and didn’t step in, that they didn’t stop abuse or alert the authorities where a patron/customer was being threatened and abused. Why do we have a different expectation for the cyber world? Facebook has indicated themselves they have “community standards” Who knew those community standards allowed for abuse, bullying and targeting by societies malcontents…all the while Facebook sits on the sidelines and makes money off it all. Doesn’t this make them part of the problem???

  • stubbikins

    But facebook does find images of nursing mothers offensive….

  • No one. Ever. Ever. Should be abused, raped, molested, bullied, or terrorized. If these pages that crop up to fight against the glorification of such things are being shut down by Facebook that is despicable. If the creators of those pages are shutting them down because of threats or fear, then I suppose I can understand.

    However, as a formerly abused child, raped adult male, and friend to more than I care to count victims of abuse, rape, and terror, I can tell you this: We will not be silent forever.

    If no one else can stomach the abuse to put up a page that shines a light on awfulness, than I’ll do it. I’ll give these jerks my home address. I’ll meet them on my front yard every day at 6. I may lose every single fight they start, but I’ll get back up.

    So thank you, Soraya, for the article; I had no clue these pages were being targeted.

  • More proof that facebook sucks. There was a guy who was making really ugly remarks about feminists (and gay people and black people but mostly women) on an event that I was invited to. I called him on it on the event page and wrote about it on my own wall. He reported me for harassment, even though I never messaged him at all, and I was the one who got censored. On my own wall. Twice.

  • A man

    The picture is funny because it’s so inappropriate and… bad. It’s shock humor.

    Maybe if you had a sense of humor and weren’t personally a victim of violence (you obviously are), you would be able to find the humor in it. Stop injecting your personal bias into personal expression.

    Speech of ANY kind is ALWAYS appropriate and protected – ESPECIALLY hate speech.

    • Anon

      So funny to be beaten up by an abusive person. So funny to die because of it. So funny to be threatened into saying that you tripped. You know what? Let’s joke about me killing you, your whole family, then selling your bodyparts on the blackmarket. Did someone of your family have cancer? let’s joke about how they’re going to painfully die! Let’s joke about their tears of agony while they suffer heavy treatments and fear for their life!
      You piece of shit. Kill yourself. It’s not funny. It’s not funny because more women die from domestic violences than from fucking cancer. Kill your fucking face before I do it for you.

    • Oh, please. Free speech has nothing to do with private corporations like Facebook and if you hadn’t been asleep in elementary civics class you’d have know that; free speech means the government can’t boss around the press, not that a private company has to allow everyone to do anything forever.

      I’ve never been lynched or prison raped and I’ve never had leukemia, but I can still appreciate how those things would sure be just awful. It’s called “empathy” and it’s a feeling that most humans have. Maybe you should look it up before you find yourself actually needing support from people one day.

    • zyan

      Maybe if you weren’t a perpetrator of violence you would have a human reaction to images like pregnant women pushed down stairs instead of finding them funny.

  • Maybe we should just leave Facebook to the creeps, like Zuckerberg himself, and find other avenues without the misogyny, racism and homophobia.

  • Zuckerberg himself is a misogynist pig. He founded Facebook in the first place to wage war on women. It should come as no surprise then that Zuckerberg attracts, employs, and condones his own kind. Within the last year, a 32 yr old male employee of Facebook was charged with stalking, harassing, and posting lewd photos of a teenage girl until she committed suicide. If these are the kind of men Zuckerberg employs, is it any wonder that nothing gets done when porn – including child porn, and violence against girls/women are reported? That’s right. Child porn is apparently acceptable on Facebook. I ran across photos of adult men raping infants. Since the employees of Facebook apparently think such things are just debatable humor (even tho child porn is downright illegal), I and others contacted the IWF and the photos were removed within half an hour. The IWF doesn’t stop there. It investigates the perps.

    In the meanwhile, my acct was suspended just for saying it is biologically impossible for men to be women. Apparently Facebook won’t tolerate any infringement on men’s kinky fetishes and porn fantasies – even if one is only pointing out scientific fact. Scientific fact, any infringement on men’s “right” to porn, including child porn, or “right” to use rape and violence against women – this bizarrely is what Facebook finds to be a bannable offense.

    I am fast coming to the conclusion that Facebook isn’t much more than a front for white male supremacists, misogynists, racists, and porn hounds and exists to further wage war on women.

    • “[I]t is biologically impossible for men to be women”

      That awkward moment when you expose your transphobia…

  • Please have a look at this link. Let the advertisers know what they are sponsoring by sending them a screen shot.

    https://www.facebook.com/photo.php?fbid=514707081910374&set=a.419017344812682.83661.418382174876199&type=1&theater

    • yes, thank you. And also check out @EverydaySexism’s feed if on Twitter. They are contacting advertisers regularly.

  • Here’s how you take a screenshot:

    http://www.take-a-screenshot.org/

  • venus john

    I am completely against the ‘joke”

  • Keith

    Facebook? Perhaps you mean the Internet, because I’m pretty sure that didn’t originate on Facebook. Also, reading Internet comments in general is a sure fire way to lose faith in humanity, if you think Facebook is bad you should definitley stay away from YouTube, it’s a lot worse. Censorship isn’t the answer though, because of its freedom the Internet tends to be a haven for this sort of stuff, but the way to make it go away is to educate young people not to be prejudiced, or rather NOT educate people to be prejudiced; the problem is you can’t force people who are bigots not to teach their children to be bigots not sure what the solution is, sadly, but Censorship won’t fix it.

    • This isn’t about censorship, as I said in this and related pieces. it’s about the unbalanced and sexist ways in which policies and processes are interpreted and constructed. I’m a writer and value the First Amendment, but it refers to the government, which, in any case, restricts speech all the time. Facebook, as I explained, is specifically choosing what it censors and doing it in a way that disproportionately negatively harms girls and women. Of course censorship won’t fix it and isn’t the solution. What will fix it is introspection about how misogyny informs norms and pervasively perpetuates violence against women as normal in ways otherwise, for other marginalized groups, is socially rejected.

      • Chris Voltro

        I think you should focus your energy and attention on real issues that harm women on Facebook. It isn’t one shock value meme that made the rounds, it’s the idiotic, whore-like way so many women portray themselves on the social site. Nothing says “respect me, I am woman hear me roar!” like a bathroom tit shot with puckered lips in your underwear.

  • I always see things on facebook which reads backwards to me. Sexism, Double Standards, pro violence ‘gags’, pro rape gags. Twitter also has it moments!

  • EXCELLENT ARTICLE! An accusation of racism is the halitosis of the progressive movement, but sexism is “debatable”. PERFECT. Thank you Soraya!

  • I reported that photo to facebook too, and they sent me this little communique that says it doesn’t violate their rules. I don’t know what more should be required – should the woman be bleeding from the nose, perhaps? Or would that still be okay?

  • Andre4000

    Facebook is stagnating — no new users in the UK this past year, and they lost 10 million American users over the same period. Between the misogyny and the ads, they are becoming very unpopular — but because they are a bunch of money-grubbing misogynist nerds, they don’t see it.

  • Dawn

    This is why I absolutely HATE Facebook.

  • Harmon Jenkins

    The problem here is that while this article talks about how horrible it is for people to laugh at this, it ignores the fact that MEN being beaten up and slapped by women isn’t even seen as offensive by most people. And if a woman hits a guy first, she DOES deserve to be hit back. (not if she ‘gets out of line’, if she hits the guy first) and whats really sexist is that some people want to see men let a woman hit him and nothing happen to her because “he deserved it”. Do something about that stuff and I’ll think about supporting this article.

  • Don

    So good ole Cubesmart sponsoring this …. turns my stomach. This company could care less about the struggling American be it a single mom, hard working one man business or the poor soul locked in a hospital. You don’t pay on time or fall behind say good bye to your property. These corporate slugs will sell you down the river in a second. Mislead, deceive, lie they do it all. Time for state regulation of their procedures and practices. I’m a fifteen year customer and was recently spit on by this company. Their smiles are fake, corporate demons behind each. Do business with a mom and pop, there out there.

  • Jean Valjean

    Never underestimate the ability of a feminist to bask in her victim status. Feminists talk about “equality” but they make it clear that violence against women is more important than violence against men. Well that’s not exactly true. You’d be hard pressed to even get a feminist to admit that men suffer more violence, much of it at the hands of women, let alone talk about it.

    To feminists, we’re all equal, it’s just that women are more equal.

    I believe that the existence of misogyny is actually true equality. This notion that women should always be respected and liked is a throwback to patriarchy.

    Women who claim to want equality should have to earn respect, trust, and friendship. These things are not entitlements just because you are equipped with a vagina. Men must earn these things and so should women. When women spread hatred, are abusive towards men and children they do not deserve respect. When they use violence directly or by proxy they don’t deserve trust or friendship.

    A man who has been abused by a woman has every right to hate that woman. The notion that anytime a man hates a woman or does not trust women that he is a misogynist is proof that women want privilege rather than equality. It is proof that they hate men because they seek to deny men the full range of human emotion. To women we are only allowed to have approved emotions, approved goals, dreams, and interests. And if a woman doesn’t approve then we are misogynists.

    I ask you feminists here. If a man tried to define what you should do, wear, say, and how you should act would you not call that sexism?

    Of course you would.

    Then why do you think it is your right to do the same thing to men?

    If you want respect then earn it. If you want to be trusted then be trustworthy. If you want to be liked then be likable.

    You asked for equality now earn it like a man.

  • Jean Valjean

    75% of targeted online abuse is aimed at women? The rest of this statistic shows that it is primarily women doing the aiming.

    If you dish it out you should be able to take it.

    Now we know why women spent the last 10,000 years in the kitchen.

    It’s the only place where you won’t be offended.

  • Maddie La Squirelle

    For that picture: cut his arms off!