Facebook Pulls A Few Controversial Rape Pages, But Many Remain
"What's 10 inches and gets girls to have sex with me? My knife."
A Facebook page bearing this name was among more than half a dozen recently removed by the world's largest social networking site following weeks of outrage online and a Change.org petition that garnered more than 180,000 signatures.
The controversy sheds light on the challenges that Internet companies face when policing individuals' actions online, as well as the difficulty users have in communicating with web behemoths that control hundreds of millions of individual accounts.
While sending photos, updates and other personal information to Facebook is a seamless process for users, getting answers from the social networking site about its policies can be far more difficult. Shelby Knox, Change.org's director of organizing for women's rights, noted that weeks went by before Facebook reached out to explain why it would allow pages like "Riding my girlfriend softly so she doesn't wake up" to remain on its site.
Facebook initially declined to pull the controversial pages, citing users' freedom to voice their opinions and likening the pages to jokes friends might tell over a few beers. The social network has faced similar criticism in the past and has been called on to remove pages belonging to Holocaust-deniers, or advocating a "Third Palestinian Intifada" against Israel.
"It is very important to point out that what one person finds offensive another can find entertaining, just as telling a rude joke won't get you thrown out of your local pub, it won't get you thrown off Facebook," Facebook told the BBC in August of this year.
Yet critics countered that pages that can be interpreted as advocating rape and violence, such as "It's not rape if you yell surprise,” violate Facebook's own policies and have no place on the social network. In September, Change.org member John Raines launched a petition asking Facebook to pull pages that "encourage or condone rape," and in November, the organization spearheaded a Twitter campaign calling on people to highlight offensive Facebook pages with the hashtag "#notfunnyfacebook."
In the wake of these efforts, Facebook responded and relented -- but only in part.
While many of the pages named by the Change.org petition have been pulled, many others remain and several new ones have cropped up.
At the time of this writing, "How dare you call me a rapist!!! Jk, Get in the Van," remains active and has more than 262,000 "likes." "If I wanted you to open your mouth I would have dropped my pants," a page that has garnered 40,908 "likes," is also up and running, as is "Throwing eggs at sluts, brick shaped eggs -- made from brick," which invites people to rate other users' photos with comments like "drown" or "hit....... With a shovel."
Facebook spokesman Andrew Noyes confirmed that Facebook had removed several pages over the past few days, but declined to specify which had been pulled from the site. A source familiar with the matter said Facebook plans to monitor the pages highlighted by Change.org and may take them down if they violate the site's policies.
"There is no place on Facebook for content that is hateful, threatening, or incites violence, and we encourage users to report pages, posts or users who violate our Statement of Rights and Responsibilities," Noyes explained in an emailed statement. "Groups or pages that express an opinion on a state, institution, or set of beliefs -- even if that opinion is outrageous or offensive to some -- do not by themselves violate our policies. These online discussions are a reflection of those happening offline, where conversations happen freely."
Knox maintains that allowing pages that advocate or make light of sexual violence poisons Facebook for many of its users and offers a tacit approval of rape. Knox said she hopes Facebook will be more transparent about how it determines which pages should be allowed on the site and promises to remove any content that promotes rape.
"Facebook is becoming a space that is not safe for women or people who have been victims of sexual violence," Knox said. "This contributes to a culture that accepts and even condones rape and violence against women."
But the thousands of users who have "liked" these controversial pages on Facebook seem to disagree.
The administrator of the Facebook page "Wiping makeup off your shoe after a long day of kicking sluts in the face" asked users to weigh in on an email received from Facebook "stating that people have reported this page as 'offensive.'"
More than thirty people left comments defending the page -- which has more than 90,000 "likes." Though former Facebook marketing director Randi Zuckerberg has argued that eliminating anonymity online will help eradicate bullying and harassment on the web, many of the users who supported the page seem to have done so under their real names.
"This page is f--kin tops..infact im wiping cheap makeup off my shoe right now [sic]," wrote Sarah Wubbels.
"Lol offensive to who? Sluts? Lol sluts have no rights," Greg Williams added.
"Just read the name of this group again and I peed a little, I laughed that hard," Kelsey McCusker commented.
Facebook intends to allow obvious satire or humor to remain even if some find it offensive, according to a person familiar with the matter.
To Knox, this is unacceptable. She noted that many take offense at the idea that rape could ever be seen as funny.
"Alleging humor does not give a free pass to promoting hate content," Knox said. "If the point of Facebook is to create an open community for everyone to express themselves, there has to be some give and take between what is a horrible attempt at humor and making a space unsafe for those who have been the victims of sexual violence."
SPARK movement, a non-profit group that advocates against the sexualization of girls, tweeted at Facebook a similar sentiment.
"1 in 6 women are victims of sexual assault. Your 'joke pages' aren't jokes at all."