The purpose of our blog is to discuss topical issues, stories, and situations, as well as to share what we are up to and new ways for you to get involved. We are always searching for possible answers to the question: Why is a girl's worth culturally and historically relative?

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Facebook and the perpetuation of rape culture


Over the last week or so, there has been a backlash against Facebook. Tired of their complaints falling on deaf ears, women–and men–organized by the Everyday Sexism Project have been calling on Facebook to stop their implicit support of "rape culture." I am one of those people.

In the interests of full disclosure, I have never had a Facebook account, in large part due to privacy concerns. But Facebook is arguably the most used social networking site on the planet, seen by hundreds of millions every day, including children and teens (there are at least 7.5 million children who are under the 13 year old age restriction). Equally enormous is the revenue generated by companies who advertise on the site. Many of those companies are now being targeted by Twitter users, who are encouraging companies to pull their advertising until Facebook changes some of its policies (kudos to WestHost, a hosting company who has completely pulled their advertising from Facebook because of the pages their ads were appearing on). Additionally, individuals have suspended or closed their accounts because of Facebook's inconsistent application of their policies.

But what are these policies exactly, and why are we making a big deal about them? Laura Bates, the founder of the Everyday Sexism Project, wrote about them for The Guardian. Facebook's community standards state that "Facebook does not permit hate speech, but distinguishes between serious and humorous speech." Additionally, a spokesperson for Facebook said, "There is no place on Facebook for hate speech or content that is threatening or incites violence." Though these policies seem fine at first glance, they are in fact vague and prone to ambiguity. When questioned about how the policies were applied, Bates was told by the spokesperson that:
We take reports of questionable and offensive content very seriously. However, we also want Facebook to be a place where people can openly discuss issues and express their views, while respecting the rights and feelings of others. Groups or pages that express an opinion on a state, institution, or set of beliefs–even if that opinion is outrageous or offensive to some–do not by themselves violate our policies.
All this vague doublespeak comes down to one thing: pages that advocate rape and domestic violence are accepted through Facebook's moderation queue (which is dealt with by humans, not automated image scanners, according to what Laura Bates was told), while images of women breastfeeding or two men kissing are deleted. Ironically, images of two women kissing are allowed, as shown on a page entitled "This is Why Indian Girls are Raped - II" (the II refers to the fact that the first page was eventually taken down by Facebook). There are innumerable examples of such pages on Facebook, and even more "jokes" that get passed around on indivduals' pages. I won't link to them directly, but a few examples can be found here, and even more are documented throughout Everyday Sexism's Twitter account.

Under the guise of protecting free speech, Facebook leaves pages up that advocate rape, beating women, and sexually abusing children, because they don't want to censor humor. Apparently these pages are meant to be darkly humorous. While I find them horrifying, I could potentially accept their continued existence if Facebook didn't remove images of cupcakes iced like labia (not actual female genitalia, but baked goods), women breastfeeding (whether a nipple is visible or not), and post-mastectomy photos (no nipple visible, as the breast has been completely removed).


Section 3, number 7 of Facebook's polices states that "You will not post content that: is hate speech, threatening, or pornographic; incites violence; or contains nudity or graphic or gratuitous violence." So why does Facebook actively censor nudity in the form of breastfeeding or a woman celebrating beating breast cancer, but not gratuitous violence when it's of a bound and gagged woman with the caption, "If she really didn't want it, she would have said something"?

Why does Facebook, quite possibly the world's largest public forum, think it's ok to condone violence against women and children?

-Katie Weidmann
Junior Girl
Girl Museum Inc.

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