On May 21, 2013, Women, Action and the Media (WAM), The Everyday Sexism Project and author/activist Soraya Chemaly rang a warning bell to Facebook: No more offensive images, no more graphic and disturbing photos of violence against women. These organizations and individuals launched an international and very public effort, #FBRAPE. According to Laura Bates, founder of the Everyday Sexism Project, and one of #FBRAPE's creators:
For those who might not have seen some of this content, and who have responded to our recent #FBRape campaign with the usual "don't be so easily offended" or "learn to take a joke," let me be clear. We are talking about thousands of images of women bleeding, torn, bruised, battered, scarred, and sometimes even dead.
Ms. Bates goes on to say:
We created the campaign because of a long build up of frustration amongst female users and women's groups internationally at what we perceived to be a serious problem in Facebook's methods of dealing with content relating to rape and domestic violence. Despite the efforts of many to raise awareness of the problem or contact Facebook, change simply didn't seem to be coming, so we launched the campaign as an international effort to try to have a real impact.
Well, let's hear it for the ladies. As Susan Garrasino declared in her HuffPo article, "How Facebook Learned Rape was Bad for Business," The #fbrape campaign was a spectacular act of free market political theatre, executed to perfection....on May 27th, women won the internet." Hurray for this grass roots initiative that showed Facebook the power of community and a shared voice. This formidable group forced Facebook to make long overdue changes - they each deserve a standing ovation, a group wave, ticker tape parade, a TV show, a celebration.
Facebook, bowing to public pressure from this initiative, loss of advertising dollars and (probably being kind) maybe even a delayed sense of morality, posted a long public statement on May 28:
In recent days, it has become clear that our systems to identify and remove hate speech have failed to work as effectively as we would like, particularly around issues of gender-based hate... We have been working over the past several months to improve our systems to respond to reports of violations, but the guidelines used by these systems have failed to capture all the content that violates our standards. We need to do better -- and we will.
But I certainly won't spend anytime applauding Facebook. My real question to Facebook is, "What took you so long?" Is it news that a page titled, "Violently Raping Your Friend Just for Laughs" or a photo with the slogan "1/3 of Women are Physically Abused....2/3 of Men Aren't Doing Their Job" were violent and offensive. Did Facebook need a new policy that states, "We will update the training for the teams that review and evaluate reports of hateful speech or harmful content on Facebook?" Physical abuse as a joke and rape for laughs wouldn't seem to me to necessitate new policies -- certainly not for a company that changed the way the world communicates. I find it implausible that Facebook didn't know that rape, abuse, violence and pain don't pass even the lowest standards for appropriateness, respect and a basic sense of right and wrong. Facebook, yes you need to better. I for one really hope you will.