Breaking: Facebook promises action on gender-based hate speech.

facebook-like-iconHuh! Seven days after the launch of the #FBrape campaign, Facebook has responded in just about the best possible way. From the company’s statement:

Many different groups which have historically faced discrimination in society, including representatives from the Jewish, Muslim, and LGBT communities, have reached out to us in the past to help us understand the threatening nature of content, and we are grateful for the thoughtful and constructive feedback we have received. 

…In recent days, it has become clear that our systems to identify and remove hate speech have failed to work as effectively as we would like, particularly around issues of gender-based hate…. We need to do better – and we will.

The statement then lists a series of concrete steps, “that we will begin rolling out immediately” — these include:

  • a review of Facebook community standards and an update to its hate speech guidelines
  • updated training for teams responsible for reviewing “hateful speech or harmful content”
  • increased accountability and transparency for creators of questionable content
  • establishing “more formal and direct lines of communications with representatives of groups working in this area, including women’s groups,” and other outside resources, such as the Anti-Defamation League’s Anti-Cyberhate working group, legal experts, “and other groups that have historically faced discrimination.”
  • undertaking “research on the effect of online hate speech on the online experiences of members of groups that have historically faced discrimination in society, and to evaluate progress on our collective objectives.”

This is all very, very good news indeed, and as someone who’s advocated around a lot of painful issues in the course of her life, I almost don’t know what to do with it. You mean – people can see reason? Within a reasonable amount of time? Really?

And it’s all thanks to the folks at the Everyday Sexism ProjectWomen Action and Media, and activist Soraya Chemaly – from their statement about the day’s events:

Facebook has admirably done more than most other companies to address this topic in regards to content policy.

…“It is because Facebook has committed to having policies to address these issues that we felt it was necessary to take these actions and press for that commitment to fully recognize how the real world safety gap experienced by women globally is dynamically related to our online lives,” explains Soraya Chemaly.

“We have been inspired and moved beyond expression by the outpouring of energy, creativity and support for this campaign from communities, companies and individuals around the world. It is a testament to the strength of public feeling behind these issues.” says Laura Bates, founder of the Everyday Sexism Project.

Jaclyn Friedman, executive director of Women Action and the Media (WAM!), said: “We are reaching an international tipping point in attitudes towards rape and violence against women. We hope that this effort stands as a testament to the power of collaborative action.”

We are hopeful that this moment will mark an historic transition in relation to media and women’s rights in which Facebook is acknowledged as a leader in fostering safer, genuinely inclusive online communities, setting industry precedents for others to follow.We look forward to collaborating with these communities on actions both big and small until we live in a world that’s safe and just for women and girls, and for everyone.

Now, of course, Facebook still has to deliver on all these fine promises – but you know what? Rape culture and domestic violence apologists are EVERYwhere. What we don’t have everywhere are efforts to combat those things. Facebook is to be commended for this swift and solid response, and its willingness to be in dialogue with the very people who called it on the carpet. This is a very powerful, very hopeful thing.

And I have to say: I’ve been active around the issue of sexual assault since the mid-80s, and I have seen huge cultural shifts in just the past few years. Today’s outcome would have been completely inconceivable even just five years ago, I think. It’s utterly remarkable to me – in fact, I think I’m in a little bit of shock.

But it’s the good kind of shock! So thanks Facebook! And thank you very much to all the folks who read this blog and spread the word. We are a part of something that made real change for good. Give yourself a high-five for me, ok? : ) THANK YOU!

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Why isn’t it hate speech if it’s about women?

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PLEASE SEE VERY IMPORTANT UPDATE, HERE.

I am famously Not On Facebook (well, “famously” among you folks, anyway), but not being on Facebook doesn’t mean that I’m entirely unaware of the phenomenon. And it strikes me that, much like Twitter, there are probably nearly as many “Facebooks” as there are users, all the various different little cultures that have been created and propagated on that platform, most users largely unaware of most of the other cultures that exist right along beside them (kind of like, you know: in the Real World).

Which is why I’ll bet most Facebook users have no idea how much vile, violent anti-woman hate speech is posted there daily, under the guise of free speech and/or “humor.”

This week, Soraya Chemaly, Jaclyn Friedman and Laura Bates posted an open letter to Facebook on HuffPo that reads in part:

We are calling on 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 on Facebook until you take the above actions to ban gender-based hate speech on your site.

Specifically, we are 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, many 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 pages and images are approved by your moderators, while you regularly remove content such as pictures of women breastfeeding, women post-mastectomy and artistic representations of women’s bodies. In addition, women’s political speech, involving the use of their bodies in non-sexualized ways for protest, is regularly banned as pornographic, while 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 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.

For me, reading about it wasn’t enough to really jolt me — what jolted me was seeing pictures.

I won’t post any here, because they’re truly disturbing, but if you’d like to see what Chemaly, Friedman and Bates are talking about, you can click here, herehere, or here.

The first example is the one that shocked me into taking action, and after having a dispassionate exchange about Facebook ad policies with me, it was the second one that inspired my Twitter friend and J Street’s new-media associate, Ben Silverstein, to make this happen:

What these posts are, pure and simple, is hate speech. We don’t often call open misogyny hate speech, but that’s what it is. If it’s your idea of a joke to meme-ify a picture of a woman cringing in fear with the words “Women deserve equal rights… and lefts” (as can be seen here), then you are (to quote Facebook itself) “attacking a person based on… gender.” Indeed, you’re attacking half of humanity. That is hate speech.

If you want to help put a stop to this kind of willed blindness about the dehumanization of women, you can click here to learn more and do some pretty simple things: Send a tweet. Post to an FB page. Maybe write an email. That’s it. Five minutes, ten minutes. One minute.

But if Facebook and their advertisers are flooded with protest, if enough people with money to spend on ads are horrified enough, if FB is hassled enough – things can change. And that means we have to flood them with protest. We are the only ones who can.

One image – not horrifying, except for the idea behind it, and it’ll give you an idea of what I’m talking about. Please take action — this kind of thing is part and parcel of the culture in which one in every five women is raped in her lifetime, and one in every four is the victim of violence from an intimate partner.

When we laugh, or just ignore it — we say it’s ok. But it’s not ok. And we need to call it out.

violence against women