A coalition of sexual violence prevention and women’s equality organizations are joining forces to pressure Facebook to take a stand against any messages that “trivialize or glorify” violence against women, which they say the company should recognize as gender-based hate speech. The activist groups — led by Women, Action & the Media, the Everyday Sexism Project, and author Soraya Chemaly — are asking Facebook to commit to removing this type of content from its platform. And until it does, they’re telling companies to pull their advertising from the site.
In an open letter to the organization, the groups point out that Facebook’s content moderators already police some images of women. In fact, images of mastectomies, breastfeeding mothers, and other non-sexualized depictions of women’s bodies are often removed from the site after being incorrectly labeled as pornographic. On the other hand, however, images and forums that make light of abusing and raping women are allowed to remain on the social media platform under the “humor” section of their content guidelines.
“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,” the groups’ open letter reads. “Your common practice of allowing this content by appending a [humor] disclaimer to said content literally treats violence targeting women as a joke.”
Facebook currently allows pages on its site called “Fly Kicking Sluts in the Uterus,” “Violently Raping Your Friend Just for Laughs,” “This is why Indian girls are raped,” and “Punching your girlfriend in the face cuz you’re Chris Brown.” The social media site also permits pictures of battered women who are bleeding, bruised, tied up, or drugged alongside captions like “This bitch didn’t know when to shut up.” Women, Action & the Media has collected several additional graphic examples here (trigger warning).
Facebook has previously cracked down on other types of hate speech, like Islamophobic and homophobic content. Considering the fact that intimate partner violence is one of the leading causes of death for women around the world, the coalition of women’s activists want the company to treat gender-based hate speech with the same seriousness. “Your refusal to similarly address gender-based hate speech marginalizes girls and women, sidelines our experiences and concerns, and contributes to violence against them,” the open letter explains.
In order to pressure Facebook to change its guidelines, the activists are encouraging the companies that advertise with the social media giant to boycott Facebook until they can be assured their ads will not appear next to content that promotes sexual violence and abuse. And after launching the campaign on Tuesday, they’ve already had some success so far. The web hosting provider West Host plans to pull its ads from Facebook. A growing list of other companies — including American Express, ZipCar, and Dove — have responded to inquiries by saying the Facebook content goes against their company values and they’re looking into it.
Even outside of the groups and images referenced in the current campaign against Facebook, social media sites have inadvertently begun to play a larger role in promoting rape culture over the past several years. Increasingly, teens who commit sexual crimes are choosing to videotape or photograph the assault in order to upload it online. Just this Monday, news broke that teens in Chicago allegedly gang-raped a 12-year-old girl at gunpoint and posted a video of the rape on Facebook. Similarly, the Steubenville rape victim didn’t find out about the assault committed against her until she saw images and videos of it on social media the next day.
A Facebook spokesperson told ThinkProgress that the company does not tolerate hate speech or harmful material, and reiterated that the social media platform allows users to easily report that type of content so it can be removed. “However, as you may expect in any diverse community of more than a billion people, we occasionally see people post distasteful or disturbing content, or make crude attempts at humor,” the official statement from Facebook said. “While it may be vulgar and offensive, distasteful content on its own does not violate our policies. We do require that any such page be clearly marked — so users are aware that the content may be in poor taste.”