Facebook does not care about women. That may be a strong statement to make, but based on their actions (and in some cases their lack of action) it is clear that the social media giant does not care what messages it sends about women and their role in society. Because of its open-to-interpretation Community Standards policies, pictures of women breast-feeding their children have been torn down within hours of posting, but pages with names like “Violently Raping Your Friend Just for Laughs” and pictures of battered women with captions like “don’t wrap it and tap it, tape her and rape her” have remained on the site even after multiple people have reported the pages and pictures as offensive.
This is not a new issue. It has been going on for well over a year, with a Gawker piece highlighting some of the sexism happening on the site. Facebook removed some of the pro-rape, anti-women pages after that article ran, but seemed hesitant at best to do it stating that the pages were humorous and meant as a joke. Thus, many of the pages stayed. And more were created, despite the fact that many had signed a petition and put pressure on Facebook to monitor this kind of hate speech more thoroughly.
Is it hate speech? Many users flagged the “tape her and rape her” picture as offensive to bring it to the moderator’s attention. Facebook found it to not violate the “Community Standard on hate speech, which includes posts or photos that attack a person based on their race, ethnicity, national origin, religion, sex, gender, sexual orientation, disability, or medical condition”. There are multiple examples of glorified violence against women (and sometimes children) documented on the website (major trigger warning if you click the links), yet the social media giant almost always refuses to remove these pictures because they do not find them to fit into their definition of hate speech.
But it absolutely is hate speech. The pictures and pages should not be seen just as jokes among bros for many people. Instead they should be viewed as a symbol of a reality where it is OK to not only objectify women, but to control them, hurt them, use them and then laugh about it. This is the foundation on which violence against women is built. When one of the most visited websites in the world says it’s not harmful for men to joke about hurting, raping and in some cases even murdering women, it gives permission for those people to continue joking and take it even further. It sends the message that women are less than men; that they are second class citizens who deserve to be hurt, abused and demeaned. Facebook is contributing to rape culture and giving the green light to men to do with women what they want, even if it hurts by refusing to take down the pictures and pages that glorify violence against women.
Facebook fails to realize that any page, picture or comment that is aimed at degrading or hurting women is hate speech—it’s directed at half of the world’s population and aims to attack and tear women down simply because of their gender. It is absolutely hateful and derogatory to treat half the world like second class citizens who have no rights. While the Community Standards moderators may not think so, these photos and sites are hate speech, pure and simple.
Fortunately, many seem to agree with this sentiment, as over 220,000 people signed a change.org petition to get Facebook to take action. Women, Action & the Media wrote an open letter to the social site this month as a wake up call, urging the company to “recognize speech that trivializes or glorifies violence against girls and women as hate speech and make a commitment that you will not tolerate this content.” The letter also asks for users to hit Facebook where it hurts by contacting advertisers to urge them to pull their financial backing for the site until drastic measures are taken to stop the harmful and sexist messages displayed. It seems to be working so far—at least 15 companies have promised to pull their ads from the site. So many people and businesses raised their voices in opposition to the site’s policies that Facebook had no choice but to issue an apology on Tuesday, stating that they will work harder to remove offensive material from their site. This is a major victory for women, but it will remain to be seen if the social site stands by its statement and works to make their website a more positive and feminist place. After all, this isn’t the first time this has happened. It may not be the last. One thing is clear: Facebook is not always a women-friendly place. But it could shift if enough people’s voices are heard.