by Jarrah Hodge
Trigger-Warning for rape jokes, rape threats, misogyny
Over the past week there’s been a lot of buzz around the campaign launched by WAM! (Women, Action, & the Media) to call on prominent companies like Dove and Audible.com to pull ads from Facebook until the social networking site implements new policies and enforcement to ban gender-based hate speech. If you weren’t aware just how big the problem is, WAM! has cataloged some examples of what kind of content Facebook lets slide (serious trigger-warning for this link). When I posted the link to examples on Facebook most people commented that they were shocked and couldn’t even make it through reading all the horrible examples. The sad thing is that they were not hard to find.
But there is hope, and if we keep pushing, together we can show we are stronger than Facebook. In the first three days of the campaign over 22,000 tweets (using the #FBrape hashtag) and almost 2000 emails were sent to advertisers and the message is getting through. I’m feeling so motivated and inspired by this campaign and have been tweeting up a storm myself because I am so tired of having to try and keep reporting these types of posts individually, with often limited success. They offend me deeply but they also frighten me. The fact that anyone thought it was okay to create a Facebook page called “This is Why Indian Girls are Raped” or joke about “roundhouse kick[ing]” and “chokeslamm[ing]” a little girl is just horrifying. The fact that Facebook leaps all over requests to ban pictures of breastfeeding mothers but somehow thinks rape jokes don’t violate their community standards is appalling.
For me, though, this campaign is also personal.
Earlier this year someone on Twitter alerted me to the fact that a practically-professional Facebook troll was using my headshot as the profile picture for a really stupid and unsophisticated attempt at satire: a page supposedly created by a “Christian grad student” (represented by my picture) warning people against marijuana. The page owner, who had at least 10 accounts I could find under different fake names, had made my picture a target by posting incendiary information and graphics on the page.
When I found my picture on that page, there were more than 100 vicious, misogynistic comments on it. Here is just a small selection of the gems:
So, this had absolutely nothing to do with me. The commenters didn’t know who I really was, but it still is hard for me to look at all those comments because those people still somehow felt entitled to threaten to rape the person in that picture, or at least thought that it would be funny to joke about it.
If you’ve been watching the #FBrape discussion closely you’ll see that some advertisers have basically responded saying they have nothing to do with what content Facebook allows and we should all just be reporting things more. Of course I reported this and a bunch of my friends also helped by filing their own reports. I was lucky (I guess?) that he had used a photo that belonged to me so I could claim copyright infringement as well as harassment. Facebook’s process when I filed a report encouraged me to send a message to the page owner asking them to take down the picture voluntarily. I should have known better, but here’s how that exchange went:
Me: This photo is of me and you’re using it without permission. Would you please take it down? Thanks. Also the headshot that you used initially and the one of me made to look like the devil.
Troll: But your face is the epitome of an annoying bitch. It wouldn’t have come up on the google search of ‘feminist bitch’ otherwise.
That was a bit of a scary moment because it became clear I wasn’t a totally random choice: this guy singled me out because I was a feminist. Facebook did take the pictures down, thank god, but after that the guy posted this message from one of his other accounts:
Yup, that’s a link to my YouTube, and that post did cause a huge influx of yet more horrible troll-y comments there. I reported it pretty quickly, again for harassment, and I laid out the whole story in my complaint. That was three months ago and according to my Facebook support dashboard, my report is still being reviewed. I also got a direct message from another (presumably) fake account saying “we coming for you girl. marijuana kills yo!”
Luckily even the minor level of fight I was putting up seemed to discourage these guys and I haven’t been their target in that way for a couple of months, that I know of. But I don’t feel like I have closure. For one, I know the person or people behind the page are still at it and they’ve used pictures of different random women to represent themselves. Those women’s faces are being subjected to the same kind of comments I got and they probably don’t even know it. As well, I know the problem extends far beyond this specific case, far beyond me and the other feminist bloggers who’ve experienced Facebook harassment and silencing tactics (the Facebook Sexism Tumblr is another great collection of some of the stuff that’s being put out there every single day).
It makes me really angry. When I found my picture on that Facebook page I wanted so badly to be able to do something more effective than just reporting my incident, something that would stop this problem once and for all. I didn’t have a good solution, but now I believe we can win, with this strategic, targeted, smart and inspiring campaign from WAM!
Please join me in speaking out against gender-based hate speech on Facebook. In the open letter now signed on to by organizations and individuals from around the world, it states:
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.
Visit womenactionmedia.org/facebookaction/ and tell advertisers who use Facebook that it’s time to take a principled stand.