Why is Facebook Protecting Pro Rape Language and Abuse of Women?
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Since August, tens of thousands of Internet activists have taken to social media to protest a social media giant — Facebook — for its apparent tolerance of user-created pages that make sexual violence into a punchline. The pages, with titles like "Riding your Girlfriend softly, Cause you dont [ sic] want to wake her up" and "Kicking Sluts in the Vagina," have been common to Facebook for some time, but campaigns against them began when a Facebook representative commented to the BBC on its decision not to remove that kind of content , stating, “Just as telling a rude joke won’t get you thrown out of your local pub, it won’t get you thrown off Facebook.” The pub analogy comment circulated among feminist activists on Facebook , and it was quoted widely on blogs, sparking a series of petitions that circulated for months , demanding the removal of the pages. When Facebook failed to respond, online activists organized a Twitter hashtag Day of Action , #notfunnyfacebook, to further pressure Facebook to enforce its own terms of service and hold its users accountable. Finally, following the Twitter action, Facebook elected to delete a few of the pages . It also allowed others to remain, so long as they were retitled as parodies.
The victory came as a half-hearted one for activists, who, with more than 180,000 signatures and hundreds of Twitter participants on their side, had not been able to call Facebook to account. New pro-rape pages are still being posted. One I just visited is called “That one slut you have always wanted to kick in the face.” After scrolling past three nearly identical wall announcements explaining how I could make easy money at home today (not involving, as I had first assumed, being “slutty”), I found a handful of nasty comments, all so poorly spelled it would be difficult for them to retain any air of menace. Then I recalled the anonymous person who scrawled “FAGETS” on the wall of a student organization I worked with in college. Then I saw what the page was really used for: with the “tag a user in this post” function, fans of the page could add the name of their intended target to their wall post, and that target would potentially see the post and the threat. It made me queasy.
If it was not clear before, we must understand now that Facebook wasn't built for us — it was built for the profit of the very few. That Facebook is of value to the public as a communications platform is only important to Facebook insofar as it allows them to sell targeted advertising against our own speech. Its governing document, the Terms of Service , has been repeatedly applied unfairly and without accountability to its users, as its purpose is to legally protect Facebook from our conduct, not provide us with a free space, or even a safe space. Facebook needs to be only as minimally welcoming to us so as to ensure our return to use it again. And that we might use Facebook as a public square for activism? Not even in the business model.
Worse, Facebook has time and again turned its terms of service against the people calling it to account: women, queer people, young people, and human rights activists, among others. Facebook has removed content in favor of breastfeeding, deeming it obscene . Facebook famously removed a photo of two men kissing at a protest for queer rights . Organizers behind the UK Uncut protests had their pages deactivated by Facebook, along with dozens of related causes against austerity measures. When activists launched a call for solidarity with an Egyptian victim of police brutality, “We Are All Khaled Said,” Facebook removed the page repeatedly for terms of service violations. Its originator had used, perhaps wisely, an anonymous account to post it. Then, once the page was reinstated and its role in sparking Egypt's revolution was international news, Facebook actually claimed the page as credit for advancing the Arab Spring .