Coalition: Facebook Must Stop Gender-Based Hate Speech

Soraya Chemaly says Facebook has a misogyny problem and she’s fed up with its tolerance of gender-based hate speech.

“We want Facebook to take steps to end the promotion of violence against women. This is not a free speech issue, but the way that Facebook interprets free speech,” she says.

Today, the author/activist, Women Action and Media and Everyday Sexism announced a massive social media campaign calling on advertisers such as Dove, American Express and Vistaprint to pull their ads from Facebook until they can be assured it won’t appear next to the gender-based offensive content. 

“We hope that advertisers will pull their ads from Facebook until Facebook changes their policies. If they wouldn't advertise in a newspaper or on a TV show that promotes violence against women, why would they on Facebook?” says Jaclyn Friedman, founder and executive director of Women Action and Media.

At the heart of the issue is how Facebook deals with gender-based hate speech, despite persistent complaints from users. In recent months, it seems to be open season on women and girls on the social networking site. While offensive comments about ethnicity or even homophobia are taken down, images that make light of a man pushing a woman with a bloodied face down the stairs or jokes about rape remain.

 “I started writing about Facebook nine or 10 months ago. People began sending me content. I had this steady flow of information,” Chemaly says.

Friedman hopes Facebook takes responsibility for fostering a hostile environment for women and changes course. If Facebook takes the lead on the issue, she says, the social networking site could become a model for others to follow. 

The women are also spearheading  a coalition of more than two dozen organizations demanding Facebook change its policies regarding the content. 

“This action has been a long time coming --we and various other women have been trying to draw Facebook's attention to this serious problem for some time, and have repeatedly been ignored or swept under the carpet,” says Laura Bates of Everyday Sexism.

Members of the coalition say Facebook has refused to engage in meaningful dialogue on the issue. Chemaly and others say they have spoken to representatives from Facebook, with no results or correcting of the problem. 

“We've tried everything else. Activists and advocates have tried petitions to Facebook, some of which have garnered many, many signatures. We've tried going behind the scenes and conversing with people at Facebook, up and down the chain. Women's lives are on the line. It's time to take bolder action,” says Friedman 

Members of the coalition also accuse the social networking giant of being a hyprocrite.

“While refusing to engage in any meaningful dialogue with its users on the issue, Facebook has acted in what comes across as an incredibly hypocritical manner, claiming that certain images depicting rape and domestic violence do not contravene their terms when they are reported by concerned users, yet immediately removing the same images when they are mentioned by journalists in articles,”  Bates says

In February, Facebook removed an image of a breast cancer survivor’s mastectomy tattoo, claiming it violated the sites rules on nudity. Chemaly also points out that when a woman uses her body for political speech, as in the case of FEMEN, parts of her body are banned. 

“We can’t pretend Facebook is unbiased,” she adds.

Yet, Chemaly, Friedman and Bates all agree that the problem of devaluing women goes beyond social media. 

Facebook's ambivalence to the complaints echoes a failure worldwide to take violence against women seriously or acknowledge it for the global pandemic it is,” Bates says. “It also speaks to the social normalization and acceptance of gendered hate speech, which does not receive the same attention or reaction as other forms of prejudice.”


Photo: Unarmed Civilian/Creative Commons/Flickr