A coalition of more than two dozen activists launched a campaign Tuesday demanding that Facebook, the world’s largest social media website, be more responsive to gendered threats and violent speech targeting women and girls within its communities. The activists are asking users to put pressure on the company where it will hurt the most: on the company’s advertisers.
“We are asking Facebook users to contact advertisers whose ads on Facebook appear next to content that targets women for violence, to ask these companies to withdraw from advertising until you take the above actions to ban gender-based hate speech on your site,” explained the group in an open letter.
Spearheaded by Laura Bates of the Everyday Sexism Project, Jaclyn Friedman of Women, Action, and the Media, and writer and women’s rights activist Soraya Chemaly, the campaign seeks to draw attention to the double standard of the social network, which hyper-regulates content depicting female bodies while largely ignoring the violent speech and misogyny that runs rampant in some sectors of the site.
The activists hope the effort will ultimately force Facebook to reassess its position about what constitutes appropriate content. The site has in the past been aggressive in blocking pictures of women breastfeeding their children, women facing post-mastectomy recovery, and even pro-woman content like a drawing and description of female anatomy, while at the same time allowing groups and photos that denigrate women to proliferate.
In the wake of incidents like the Steubenville rape case, some women’s rights advocates have pointed to Facebook as a silent partner in the escalating culture of violence against women. “Every day people send me story after story about sexual abuse and domestic violence,” Chemaly told RH Reality Check. “Today, the Tampa Sun-Times ran a story about three teenage boys accused of raping a 12-year-old and posting their raping her on Facebook. Did Facebook rape this girl? Of course not. Did Facebook make it clear that laughing about rape, mocking victims, treating violence against women as a joke, and boasting about a rape on their site are just fine? Absolutely. Their entire approach literally turns the act of rape, including the rape of this girl, into a joke and emboldens rape apologists and violent abusers.”
“Obviously, rape isn’t a ‘Facebook problem,’ but the company, by virtue of its principles and guidelines, has made dismantling a culture of tolerance for rape and domestic violence one,” said Chemaly.
“It appears that Facebook considers violence against women to be less offensive than non-violent images of women’s bodies, and that the only acceptable representation of women’s nudity are those in which 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,” the group wrote in its open letter. “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, to bring your policy on rape and domestic violence into line with your own moderation goals and guidelines.”