My Open Letter to Facebook about why I am joining Women, Action & the Media’s campaign

by jovan1984

MENLO PARK, CA — Facebook should have expected this.

Yesterday, WAM! wrote an open letter to Facebook.  I am doing my own now.

Dear Facebook,

I am demanding swift and sweeping action addressing the representation of rape and domestic violence on Facebook.  Specifically, I call on you, Facebook, to take these following actions:

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

To this end, we are calling on Facebook users to contact advertisers whose ads on Facebook appear next to content that targets women (and men, for that matter) for gender-based violence, to ask these companies to withdraw from advertising on Facebook until you take the above actions to ban gender-based hate speech on your site. Specifically, I am referring to groups, pages and images that explicitly condone or encourage rape or domestic violence or suggest that they are something to laugh or boast about.  Pages currently appearing on Facebook include Fly Kicking Sluts in the Uterus, Kicking your Girlfriend in the Fanny because she won’t make you a Sandwich, Violently Raping Your Friend Just for Laughs, Raping your Girlfriend and many thousands more.  Images appearing on Facebook include photographs of women beaten, bruised, tied up, drugged, and bleeding, with captions such as “This bitch didn’t know when to shut up” and “Next time don’t get pregnant.”

These disgusting pages and images are approved by your moderators, while you regularly remove content such as pictures of nude people, as well as photos of those who are breastfeeding.  In addition, political speech, involving the use of people’s nude bodies in non-sexualized ways for protest, is regularly banned as pornographic, while undeniable pornographic content – prohibited by your own guidelines – remains.  It appears that Facebook considers violence against women to be less offensive than non-violent images of people’s bodies, and that the only acceptable representation of people’s nudity are those in which they – especially women – appear as sex objects or the victims of abuse.  Your common practice of allowing this content by appending a [humor] disclaimer to said content literally treats violence targeting women as a joke.

At least 7 in every 10 women and 7 in every 25 men have experienced violence at some time in their lives. These numbers are staggering.  In a world in which this many girls and women — and an increasing number of boys and men — will be raped or beaten in their lifetimes, allowing content about raping and beating women to be shared, boasted and joked about contributes to the normalisation of domestic and sexual violence, creates an atmosphere in which perpetrators are more likely to believe they will go unpunished, and communicates to victims of both genders that they will not be taken seriously if they report.

One of the more disturbing things I noticed was this 2009 survey from the other side of the Atlantic, conducted by the Home Office Survey.  Among these items I found absolutely disturbing is that a combined 49% of all Britons say that the victim should bear some responsibility if she (or he) does not say NO to sex in a clear and concise manner – 51% of all women said that a female victim should be held responsible if she doesn’t say no clearly, 42% say that a female victim should be held responsible if she is doing what the US government would deem illicit drugs, 43% say that a female victim should be held responsible if she is flirting with men, 47% say that a female victim should be held responsible if she is a sex worker – including 47% of all men and 46% of all women, 41% say that they would not take action if a neighbor was a victim of domestic violence because they say it is none of their business – 34% said that they would not take action if it was a family member who was being abused – 43% said that they would not help a friend who was a victim of domestic violence.  A disappointing result: less than 5 in 8 Britons say that they would help a neighbor or friend who was a victim of domestic violence, while only 27 out of every 50 Britons say that they would help a family member who was a victim.

Although Facebook claims, not to be involved in challenging norms or censoring people’s speech, you have in place procedures, terms and community guidelines that you interpret and enforce. Facebook prohibits hate speech and your moderators deal with content that is violently racist, homophobic, Islamophobic, and anti-Semitic every day. Your refusal to similarly address gender-based hate speech marginalizes girls and women – as well as boys and men, sidelines my experiences and concerns, and contributes to violence against all of us – female or male. Facebook is an enormous social network with more than a billion users around the world, making your site extremely influential in shaping social and cultural norms and behaviors.

Facebook’s response to the many thousands of complaints and calls to address these issues has been completely unacceptable. You have failed to make a public statement addressing the issue, respond to concerned users, or implement policies that would improve the situation. You have also acted inconsistently with regards to your policy on banning images, in many cases refusing to remove offensive rape and domestic violence pictures when reported by members of the public, but deleting them as soon as journalists mention them in articles, which sends the strong message that you are more concerned with acting on a case-by-case basis to protect your reputation than effecting systemic change and taking a clear public stance against the dangerous tolerance of rape and domestic violence.

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 — and one of the leading causes of death for men right here in the United States, it is not possible to sit on the fence.  I call on Facebook to make the only responsible decision and take swift, clear and sweeping action on this issue, to bring your policy on rape and domestic violence into line with your own moderation goals and guidelines.

NOTE: Most of this is based from a letter that Soraya Chemaly and Jaclyn Friedman helped write for the Huffington Post yesterday.