Coalition: Time for Facebook to take responsibility for gender-based hate speech

*Trigger warning*

Starting on May 21, a coalition of more than two dozen organizations — including Led by Women, Action & the Media, The Everyday Sexism Project, and author Soraya Chemaly — are calling on Facebook to end its complicit approval of memes and pages that promote violence against women and gender-based hate speech.

As the coalition explains in an official statement released today:

Specifically, the group demands that the social media giant take three specific actions:

  1. Recognize speech that trivializes or glorifies violence against girls and women as hate speech and make a commitment that Facebook will not tolerate this content.
  2. Train Facebook’s content moderators to recognize and remove gender-based hate speech.
  3. Train moderators to understand how online harassment differently affects women and men, in part due to the real-world pandemic of violence against women.

The message to Facebook is accompanied by a massive social media campaign, calling on advertisers such as Dove and American Express to pull their advertising from Facebook until they can be assured it won’t appear next to content that promotes rape or domestic violence.

Examples of these pages include Fly Kicking Sluts in the Uterus and Violently Raping Your Friends Just for Laughs. This is not new. Back in November 2011, I wrote about several pages on Facebook, including It’s Not Rape if you Yell Surprise and Kicking Sluts in the Vagina Because it’s Funny Watching Your Foot Disappear. When you combine this with tolerance, or even implied approval, of photo memes that depict violence against women with taglines like, “This bitch didn’t know when to shut up,” it adds up to a long history of a corporate culture that is a willing participant in spreading gender-based hate speech and rape culture.

Indeed, the ubiquitous nature and incredible cultural power of Facebook has been leveraged as a unique tool for rape culture and to promote violence against women. Last month, Retaeh Parsons killed herself after more than a year of cyber bullying following her sexual assault in 2011. Her very attackers posted photos of the incident on Facebook and proceeded to use that evidence to mock and harass her for months on end until, finally, she could take no more and ended her life. And she is not the only one.

That alone would be enough. The very fact that the power of social media sites — Facebook being nearly the king of the hill, so to speak — can be harnessed for such malevolence is a testament to its power to harm. So, when a brand like Facebook allows the “humor” sites like What’s 10 Inches and Gets Girls to Have Sex With Me? My Knife to proliferate, there is a very real consequence to that act.

And let’s be clear. For all its hand-wringing and cries of First Amendment rights, Facebook has a history of acting to remove anti-Semetic, Islamophobic, and homophobic speech. Facebook is a public forum, yes. But it is governed by the same rules and laws that prohibit me from walking into a crowded movie theater and shouting, “Fire!” when there is none. We have Freedom of Speech, but speech is not free.

Further evidence to the misogynistic culture that Facebook is either willfully or indirectly complicit in is the fact that the company has a long history of removing another kind of page and photo memes: That of breast-feeding women. It’s a curious thing that the Facebook will protect the rights of misogynists who want to promote rape culture but not the rights of women who want to promote a biological act which feeds infants.

This is a fight we can win. Facebook is not too big to listen, just ask the UFC. Two years ago, I joined a coalition of organizations to take on the Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) to get them to enact a code of conduct to address rape jokes and homophobic speech that fighters were proliferating on social media. There was a lot of resistance from UFC CEO Dana White, until advertisers like the US Marines started pulling their ads and support for the organization until they cleaned up their act. Earlier this year, the UFC enacted a code of conduct, and used it to suspend a fighter for transphobic comments. If a brand like the UFC, which has built itself partially on a kind of hyper-masculinity that tends to dovetail into rape culture, can change its ways, so can Facebook.

In an open letter to Facebook, feminist coalition partners said the following:

In a world in which hundreds of thousands of women are assaulted daily and where intimate partner violence remains one of the leading causes of death for women around the world, it is not possible to sit on the fence. We call on Facebook to make the only responsible decision and take swift, clear action on this issue.

It doesn’t get any clearer than that. Be a part of the solution, Facebook.

Photo by Chase Carter via Creative Commons

Read here  the open letter to Facebook


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  • Jard

    Your statement about free speech is conflating issues. Freedom of speech as granted by the 1st amendment refers to freedom from legal consequences imposed by the united states government. The concept of “yelling fire in a crowded theater” is an example of exceptions that permit someone to be charged with crimes. Facebook is running a private forum for which no protections of speech are guaranteed. They can moderate in any way that they see fit, and with sufficient feedback they may begin to moderate mysogyny the same way they moderate racism and homophobia, which would be good. However it is a confusion of the issue to mention free speech as though getting a meme taken off of facebook is the same as being legally tried.