#FBrape Scrutinizes Facebook’s Content Policy - We're Watching You Week


By: Molly Freeman

Photo courtesy of Simon.

In May, women’s rights organization Women, Action, and the Media (WAM!) joined forces with Everyday Sexism to form a coalition and launch the #FBRape Campaign. The campaign targeted Facebook for not removing content containing gender-based hate speech as outlined in the site’s Community Standards.

Soraya Chemaly, a writer who regularly covers the role of gender in the media, tells BTR she began writing about Facebook’s double standard in relation to hate speech against girls and women last fall. She set up a line of communication with Facebook and talked with the staff about the review process after content was reported.

This spring, Chemaly was approached by Jaclyn Friedman, executive director of WAM!, to head the #FBrape campaign. Along with Laura Bates, founder of the Everyday Sexism Project, Chemaly created a coalition between the women’s groups and launched the campaign on Twitter.

In addition to reaching out directly to Facebook, the #FBrape Campaign targeted companies that advertised on the social media site asking that they remove their ads in an effort to support the women’s campaign. Over a dozen advertisers pulled their content including Nissan UK and the “fluff-free” pre-teens UK publication, Jump! Magazine.

The campaign appealed to Dove who, as a brand that prides itself in promoting healthy body images to women, received backlash from users in the form of Facebook comments when they did not pull their ads. The company responded to the flood of comments on their Twitter: “We’re aggressively working with Facebook to resolve this issue.”

Websites like Business Insider, Femnisting, and Buzzfeed reported on the campaign, helping to promote the #FBrape cause and explain the reasoning behind it. According to WAM! as of May 28, #FBrape had elicited over 60,000 tweets and 5,000 emails from users online.

“The level of participation that we were able to engage was really just a reflection of an overall cultural response,” Chemaly tells BTR.

As is the case with any rights movement, the campaign was met with a kind of backlash, though Chemaly says she was surprised by the nature of the response.

When she had previously voiced frustration with Facebook’s enforcement of the site’s Community Standards, Chemaly had received threats and “vitriolic comments.” Rather with the #FBrape Campaign, the backlash stemmed from the idea that they was asking Facebook to increase its level of censorship.

However, Chemaly explains that the campaign was not appealing to Facebook to do any such thing. The Facebook content policy already prohibits hate speech geared toward either gender; #FBrape wasn’t asking Facebook to increase their censorship, it was asking the social media site to remove their double standard when reviewing and removing content.

“A reasonable person would look at a picture of a woman bruised and bleeding and bloodied and cowering and find that threatening or harassing or unsafe or hateful, which a lot of the images were,” Chemaly says. “Facebook didn’t seem to recognize that a woman in that situation should be granted the same protections as members of other communities.”

On May 28, Marne Levine, Vice President of Global Public Policy for the site, responded to the #FBrape campaign with a statement on the Facebook Safety page. Levine pointed out that Facebook’s content policy does include gender-based hate speech and goes on to list the actions they are taking to better their systems of weeding through reported violations.

Among the list: they will be reviewing and updating their Community Standards after conversing with legal experts and representatives of the women’s coalition; they will increase the accountability of the users that post hateful content; and Facebook will establish a more formal line of communication with representatives of women’s groups such as the Everyday Sexism Project.

Chemaly says she is cautiously hopeful that Facebook’s plan of action will yield results. The problem, she explains, is with Facebook’s ability to keep up with the number of violations that are reported—with billions of users making millions of reports a day, the staff has trouble recognizing posts depicting violence against women as hate.

Currently, Chemaly is working with Facebook to train their staff to understand what constitutes gender-based hate speech against women and girls. Meanwhile, she has received complaints that not all the hateful posts have been taken down.

“Removing institutions like this and changing culture takes a lot of time,” Chemaly explains. The changes at Facebook are not going to be recognizable overnight, it’s a process that is going to take time.

However, participants in the #FBrape Campaign can take credit for actually eliciting a response from Facebook. Even if the changes aren’t immediately noticeable, Facebook responded to the public’s scrutiny and took its users concerns into account.

For anyone who followed the Steubenville Rape Case as it transpired earlier this year, there were posts on social media sites such as Instagram and Twitter talking about and propagating ideas of violence toward women and girls.

Chemaly urges that the rates of sexual abuse and domestic violence in the United States should certainly impact the way people view gender-based hate speech on all social media, not just Facebook.

“I think that shifting perceptions of language are really important,” Chemaly says. “Just being able to have had gone through this process, I’m hoping we’ll create a model for others.”