By: KATHLEEN CHARLEBOIS
While the #FBRape campaign to eliminate misogynistic content from Facebook officially ended last month, a post on the Women, Action, and the Media (WAM!) organization website wants the social media site to fully honour their promises.
“Until Facebook makes significant changes to the way they determine what does and doesn’t violate their anti-hate speech guidelines, we will continue to hold them to the commitments they’ve made,” said the most recent campaign-related post on WAM!’s website, from July 3.
Before #FBrape was launched, Facebook took a hard line on hate speech directed toward religious, ethnic and sexual groups. But rape jokes and memes were given a pass since they were categorized as humour.
The campaign began as a response to the social media site’s lax policy toward misogynistic content. It was spearheaded by feminist writer and activist Soraya Chemaly, Jaclyn Friedman, executive director of WAM! and Laura Bates, founder of the Everyday Sexism Project.
According to WAM!, about 70 per cent of the pages reported to Facebook during the campaign were taken down, but the group is still looking into why some pages were not removed when initially reported.
“We are working very closely with Facebook to identify where the gaps between their words and their implementation are so that training and technology can close it,” Chemalysaid
Chemaly contacted Facebook last fall after people came forward about a six-minute gang rape video, a man posting pictures of escalating abuse, and other examples of graphic violence that appeared on the site and were not removed by moderators.
“The content of our campaign focused on what was not just misogynistic, but violently depicted rape and domestic violence,” said Bates.
The campaign catalyzed when an Oregon woman attempted to bring Facebook’s unsettling content to attention by creating a page called “Rapebook.” She personally received rape and assault threats for starting the page which encouraged users to report misogynistic content.
Participants of #FBrape sent over 60,000 tweets and 5,000 emails during the campaign’s run. An open letter to Facebook was posted to the WAM! website on May 21 and undersigned by over 50 other organizations, asking the social media site to address the concerns about its content.
However, the campaign has drawn criticism from people who say the removal of so-called jokes suppresses free speech and even amounts to censorship.
In response to these claims, Bates said, “It’s important to realize that as a private company, Facebook is not subject to the First Amendment, and therefore the issue of freedom of speech does not apply.”
Another criticism raised during the campaign was that companies could not control which pages their advertisements showed up on.
WAM! requested companies advertising on Facebook pull their ads until Facebook took a stricter policy against sexist hate speech. WAM!’s FAQ page explains that advertisers should be aware their ads could appear on pages promoting rape or domestic violence.
Similar action has been taken against a Kickstarter project raising money for a book filled with rape tips, and against Twitter after an anti-sexism campaigner was bombarded with rape
According to Chemaly, the #FBrape campaign is merely a starting point.
“The norms we are confronting are embedded in our laws, our cultural habits, our education system, [and] our religious practices,” she said.