ArCompany’s Sunday Social Justice series follows the ramifications of the vocal, social mob on topics ranging from criminal justice to questionable business practices and the (sometimes unfair) backlash they are faced with.
We both respect and fear the power of the social mob and its ability to whip up an anonymous band of social vigilantes almost instantly to attack its perceived villain.
This week we consider the effect that the social coalition of Women, Media, Action (WAM), Everyday Sexism, activist Soraya Chemaly and 15 brave advertisers had, finally, on forcing the heavyweight of Social Networks to make some much needed changes in its policy against misogynist speech on its platform.
Please note that because of this highly sensitive topic, there will be images and language that is offensive; it is necessary to tell the story.
Facebook’s History of Ignoring a Certain Kind of Hate Speech
If you’ve been active on Facebook for some time you’ve probably come across memes, images, or even jokes that you deem inappropriate and don’t want seen on your wall.
Perhaps you’ve even had someone create an impostor account for you or a friend, and you’ve had to report it to Facebook.
Usually, Facebook is very quick to remove impostor accounts; on hate speech there seems to be a very mixed reaction to what speech Facebook deems hateful, and what they consider ‘free.’
I once reported a blatantly racist cartoon and Facebook removed it within 24 hours.
On 3 separate occasions I reported what was clearly misogynistic imagery that targeted me personally, and on all 3 occasions I received the standard:
Status: Content Not Removed Details: Thank you for your report. We carefully reviewed the photo you reported, but found it doesn’t violate our community standard on hate speech so we didn’t remove it.
I am not alone; there are many examples of Facebook ignoring not only misogynist posts, but ones supporting violence against women.
972mag.com covered one in November of 2012 that is frankly mind-blowing.
When a user reported the Facebook Page ‘Creepshots,’ for a picture of a woman wearing a short dress with the caption “begging to be raped,’ they got the same standard reply I received.
The infuriation that a canned response to such horrible posts is understandable, and because one cannot call up and discuss anything with the gatekeepers at Facebook, the classic ‘Man vs Deaf Automation’ syndrome ensues.
Facebook’s Double Standards
As mentioned in the previous paragraphs, Facebook does not rest solidly on a ‘free speech’ stance and allow ALL hate speech to flow freely. Back in 2010 the network garnered coverage as they worked with the Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation to reduce the amount of hate speech and bullying.
As stated from my own personal experience, I have seen Facebook remove racists posts. They’re own policy covers hate speech here:
Facebook does not permit hate speech, but distinguishes between serious and humorous speech. While we encourage you to challenge ideas, institutions, events, and practices, we do not permit individuals or groups to attack others based on their race, ethnicity, national origin, religion, sex, gender, sexual orientation, disability or medical condition.
It’s that ‘distinguishes between serious and humorous speech’ where Facebook tries to have it both ways; hate speech is not grey or blurry, it is clear, except apparently, in the cases of misogyny on Facebook.
A Clear Case of Facebook Confusion
I was raised by my grandmother, Doris Chapman McCloskey, an outspoken woman in a time when that trait was not necessarily acceptable. She used to tell me:
The world is very often black and white, but a lot of people want it to be grey so that they don’t have to make the tough choices.
Facebook has been trying to keep it grey, with both their own policy and their actions. Take the case of the Facebook Page Breastfeeding/Mama Talk.
The page was started by Kristy Kemp to support women who breastfeed after she experienced a strong negative reaction herself when she fed her baby in public.
Not only were pictures of breastfeeding removed from her page, but she was blocked from it first for 24 hours, and then for 3 days. When the incident kicked up a firestorm with press coverage by the local Fox affiliate, Facebook changed its mind and apologized.
Society itself has experienced an evolution in its consideration of public breastfeeding, so perhaps Facebook deserves a pass, but before you grant it, consider the pages that they have allowed to stay up, with titles like:
Fly kicking sluts in the Uterus
Violently Raping Your Girlfriend Just for Laughs
I Kill Bitches Like You
Not to mention:
Domestic Violence: Don’t Make Me Tell You Twice
You can read more about the stomach churning content of those pages on the Democrat Herald, but the point is clear: Facebook had one policy for ‘standard hate speech,” and another for violence against women speech.
How has Sandberg Leaned In to this Debate?
I am a big fan of Sheryl Sandberg’s Lean In organization and book, and frankly I’ve been disappointed with how many of my women friends have reacted harshly to the movement without even reading the book.
In it, Sandberg illustrates the challenges she personally experienced in her career because of her gender. She pushes women to speak up and ask for what they deserve, want and need.
From reading the book and hearing her talks I know that Sandberg and Zuckerberg have a strong mutual respect; the question for me was almost instinctive:
Where does Sheryl Stand?
I wasn’t the only one questioning Sandberg specifically. John Rains created a Change.org petition directed squarely at the Facebook COO that gathered over 225K signatures.
There is also Facebook Page entitled Sherly Sandberg lean In and Remove Misogyny from FB.
As far as I can find, Sheryl Sandberg has yet to weigh in on the Facebook Misogyny debate. I realize that she is the COO, but as the leader of a movement about leaning in and speaking up, her lack of action is tremendously disappointing and frankly, cowardly.
One of the posts I read as I researched this topic by a blogger called Elizaveta states it more clearly than I could by quoting Martin Luther King:
There comes a time when silence is betrayal.
The Social Coalition that Changed Facebook’s Mind
Facebook has been dealing with complaints against misogynistic posts for years, but when Women, Action, Media (WAM), Everyday Sexism and Soraya Chemaly created a campaign to put serious public pressure on the the network to finally change its stance, things changed.
Not only did the group pen a letter to build pressure that was signed by 60 feminist groups, WAM also built up a frightful list of examples of misogynist posts. They didn’t stop there, but went after brands whose ads appeared next to the egregious content. Over 5,000 emails and 60,000 tweets were sent with the hashtag #fbrape
Both Dove and Nationwide issued apologies, and 15 companies, including Nissan and Zipcar, pulled advertising in support of the campaign.
Facebook Reacts, Eventually
Initially Facebook’s reaction was that they would review their policies. They blamed it on its ‘systems’ and said they needed to do a better job. Their quote to Huffington Post UK sums it up:
There is no place on Facebook for hate speech or content that is threatening, or incites violence, and we will not tolerate material deemed to be genuinely or directly harmful. We try to react quickly to remove reported language or images that violate our terms and we try to make it very easy for people to report questionable content using links located throughout the site. 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 humour. 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. In many instances, we may also require a page administrator to display their real name on the page, or the page will be removed.
There Facebook is again, trying to walk a line that should never be walked between ‘crude humor,’ and posts that ‘incite violence.’
Marne Levine, Facebook’s VP of Global Public Policy, wrote a post that included this statement:
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. In some cases, content is not being removed as quickly as we want. In other cases, content that should be removed has not been or has been evaluated using outdated criteria. We have been working over the past several months to improve our systems to respond to reports of violations, but the guidelines used by these systems have failed to capture all the content that violates our standards. We need to do better – and we will.
That paragraph is followed with bullet points outlining the changes Facebook will make.
Facebook Does Right
Facebook is easy to hate; dominant and hugely successful, many of its users feel almost trapped in the network because, well, it’s where everyone else in their social network is. But in this case, even though it took the pressure of a campaign, Facebook is saying the right things.
WAM is pleased, and quotes both Laura Bates of Everyday Sexism:
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.
and Soraya Chemaly as being satisfied with the results.
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.
Most poignant was the quote by Jaclyn Friedman, executive director of WAM:
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.
Let’s hope that Friedman is right. Getting Facebook on board was a huge step in the right direction.
VP of Content & Strategy at ArCompany. She has an extensive background in Sales, and focuses on generational marketing and content. With Hessie Jones she founded ArCompany’s Millnnnial, GenX and Boomer Think Tanks and writes and speaks on those topics from an insights/strategy perspective.