Open Letter to Facebook

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May 21, 2013

An Open Letter to Facebook:

We, the undersigned, are writing to demand swift, comprehensive and effective action addressing the representation of rape and domestic violence on Facebook. Specifically, we call on you, Facebook, to take three actions:

  1. 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.
  2. Effectively train moderators to recognize and remove gender-based hate speech.
  3. Effectively train moderators to understand how online harassment differently affects women and men, in part due to the real-world pandemic of violence against women.

To this end, we are calling on Facebook users to contact advertisers whose ads on Facebook appear next to content that targets women for violence, to ask these companies to withdraw from advertising on Facebook until you take the above actions to ban gender-based hate speech on your site. (We will be raising awareness and contacting advertisers on Twitter using the hashtag #FBrape.)

Specifically, we are referring to groups, pages and images that explicitly condone or encourage rape or domestic violence or suggest that they are something to laugh or boast about. Pages currently appearing on Facebook include Fly Kicking Sluts in the Uterus, Kicking your Girlfriend in the Fanny because she won’t make you a Sandwich, Violently Raping Your Friend Just for Laughs, Raping your Girlfriend and many, many more.  Images appearing on Facebook include photographs of women beaten, bruised, tied up, drugged, and bleeding, with captions such as “This bitch didn’t know when to shut up” and “Next time don’t get pregnant.”

These pages and images are approved by your moderators, while you regularly remove content such as pictures of women breastfeeding, women post-mastectomy and artistic representations of women’s bodies.  In addition, women’s political speech, involving the use of their bodies in non-sexualized ways for protest, is regularly banned as pornographic, while pornographic content – prohibited by your own guidelines – remains.  It appears that Facebook considers violence against women to be less offensive than non-violent images of women’s bodies, and that the only acceptable representation of women’s nudity are those in which women appear as sex objects or the victims of abuse.  Your common practice of allowing this content by appending a [humor] disclaimer to said content literally treats violence targeting women as a joke.

The latest global estimate from the United Nations Say No to Violence Campaign is that the percentage of women and girls who have experienced violence in their lifetimes is now up to an unbearable 70%. In a world in which this many girls and women will be raped or beaten in her lifetime, allowing content about raping and beating women to be shared, boasted and joked about contributes to the normalisation of domestic and sexual violence, creates an atmosphere in which perpetrators are more likely to believe they will go unpunished, and communicates to victims that they will not be taken seriously if they report.

According to a UK Home Office Survey, one in five people think it is acceptable in some circumstances for a man to hit or slap his wife or girlfriend in response to her being dressed in sexy or revealing clothes in public. And 36% think a woman should be held fully or partly responsible if she is sexually assaulted or raped whilst drunk. Such attitudes are shaped in part by enormously influential social platforms like Facebook, and contribute to victim blaming and the normalisation of violence against women.

Although Facebook claims, in a narrowly-defined defense of free speech, not to be involved in challenging norms or censoring people’s speech, you have in place procedures, terms and community guidelines that you interpret and enforce.Facebook prohibits hate speech and your moderators deal with content that is violently racist, homophobic, Islamophobic, and anti-Semitic every day. Your refusal to similarly address gender-based hate speech marginalizes girls and women, sidelines our experiences and concerns, and contributes to violence against them.  Facebook is an enormous social network with more than a billion users around the world, making your site extremely influential in shaping social and cultural norms and behaviors.

Facebook’s response to the many thousands of complaints and calls to address these issues has been inadequate. You have failed to make a public statement addressing the issue, respond to concerned users, or implement policies that would improve the situation. You have also acted inconsistently with regards to your policy on banning images, in many cases refusing to remove offensive rape and domestic violence pictures when reported by members of the public, but deleting them as soon as journalists mention them in articles, which sends the strong message that you are more concerned with acting on a case-by-case basis to protect your reputation than effecting systemic change and taking a clear public stance against the dangerous tolerance of rape and domestic violence.

In a world in which hundreds of thousands of women are assaulted daily and where intimate partner violence  remains one of the leading causes of death for women around the world, it is not possible to sit on the fence.  We call on Facebook to make the only responsible decision and take swift, clear action on this issue, to bring your policy on rape and domestic violence into line with your own moderation goals and guidelines.

 Sincerely,

Laura Bates, The Everyday Sexism Project

Soraya Chemaly, Writer and Activist

Jaclyn Friedman, Women, Action & the Media (WAM!)

AisFor

Angel Band Project

Adios Barbie

Advocates for Youth

Anne Munch Consulting, Inc.

AmazingWomenRock.com

Arts Against Abuse

Association for Progressive Communications Women’s Rights Programme

Australian Women Against Violence Alliance (AWAVA)

Black Feminists

The Body is Not An Apology

Breakthrough

Caleb’s Hope

Canadian Network of Women’s Shelters & Transition Houses

Canadian Women’s Foundation

Care2.com

Catharsis Productions

Centre For Child Honouring

Chicago Alliance Against Sexual Exploitation

Collective Action for Safe Spaces

Collective Administrators of Rapebook

Collective Shout

Cornershop Creative

CounterQuo

Dansk Kvindesamfund

Dear Facebook

Destroy the Joint

End Violence Against Women Coalition

Equality Now

The EQUALS Coalition

Every Girl Matters

FAAN Mail

The Fawcett Society

Fem 2.0

Femina Invicta

Feminist Peace Network

Feminist and Women’s Studies Association

The Feminist Wire

FORCE: Upsetting Rape Culture

A Girl’s Guide to Taking Over the World

Girls’ Globe

Guerilla Feminism

Hardy Girls, Healthy Women

Hollaback!

Illinois Coalition Against Sexual Assault

International Council of Jewish Women

Jackson Katz, PhD., Co-Founder and Director, Mentors in Violence Prevention

Je Suis Féministe

Lauren Wolfe, Director of WMC’s Women Under Siege

Leave No Girl Behind International

The Line Campaign

Make Me a Sammich

Making Herstory

Media Equity Collaborative

MissRepresentation.org

Ms. Magazine

National Council of Women’s Organizations

New Moon Girls

No Hate Speech Movement

No More Page 3

O Clítoris da Razão

Object

Our Bodies, Ourselves

Oregon Foundation for Reproductive Health

The Pixel Project

Powered By Girl

Radical Daughters: Young Women for Liberation

Rape Victim Advocates

The Red Hood Project

RH Reality Check

Role/Reboot

Sanctuary for Families

SEASN (Solidarity, Equity & Activist Support Network)

Secular Woman

Sheryl Sandberg “Lean In” and Remove Misogyny from Facebook

The Sin City Siren

Social Media Week

SPARK Movement

Stop Street Harassment

Take Back the Tech!

Tech LadyMafia

Time To Tell

Unite Women NY

UniteWomen.org

The Uprising of Women in the Arab World

Vagenda Magazine

Vancouver Rape Relief & Women’s Shelter

V-Day

The Voices and Faces Project

White Ribbon Campaign

Women In Media & News (WIMN)

Women Inspire Network

Women on the Edge Foundation

Women Online/The Mission List

Women’s Aid Federation Northern Ireland

The Women’s Media Center

Women’s Networking Hub

The Women’s Room

Women’s Views on News

World Wide Women

YWCA Canada

YWCA Moncton

YWCA Toronto