Feminists Fight Back Against Online Gender-Based Hate

(This Article Originally Appeared on Lipmag.com) 

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It’s been a long time coming but Facebook has finally put on some big boy panties and got serious when it comes to gender-based hate speech online. In an official blog post released on Wednesday the social networking page announced that ‘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. In some cases, content is not being removed as quickly as we want.’

This announcement comes after a large campaign by Women, Action, and the Media (WAM) in conjunction with The Everyday Sexism Project , Destroy The Joint, and many other feminist women’s groups for Facebook to provide ‘swift, comprehensive and effective action addressing the representation of rape and domestic violence on Facebook’.

Facebook’s strange and erratic responses to material that is demeaning, damaging and offensive to women have been a problem for feminists on Facebook for some time. It has been common for artistic depictions of women’s bodies and genitalia or images of women breastfeeding to be quickly removed from Facebook like a peanut in a primary school.

Meanwhile, pages and images supporting violence, rape, slut-shaming and objectification of women and girls are allowed to hang around.

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I’ve lost count how many times I have reported the ‘Creepshots’ page, yet it’s still there. These sites are like the zombies; you can kill them but they just keep coming back. They might be mildly sanctioned after pesky feminists like me have a whinge and report them; pages like ‘It’s Not Rape If You Yell Surprise!’ have been prefixed with [Controversial Humour] tags.

What a punishment! Not only are those who create and frequent such pages not being effectively told that these messages are not ok, their views are validated as jokes. Haven’t you heard? Rape is FUNNY, guys!

By remaining silent and inactive on the undeniable issue of the culture of misogyny and sexist trolling online, Facebook unintentionally condones such behaviour. According to WAM’s official open letter to Facebook: ‘Your refusal to 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 behaviours.’

I agree entirely that Facebook has become a major element of a significant portion of the population’s lives. It constitutes a whole new way of socialising. I might never leave the house some weekends, but I don’t feel lonely, disconnected or anti-social because I’m always talking to people, or seeing what they’re doing through Facebook.

Because of this we have got to stop thinking of it in completely different ways to how we think about everyday life offline. The way we construct our identities and perform who we are on Facebook largely mirrors our real life gendered selves. Thus, gender issues, just like those for ethnicity, sexuality and religion, are important and relevant for social media.

Gender-based hate and sexist trolling are issues as real as sexism in the real world, because the internet is increasingly becoming just another part of the real world. Sure, we might act slightly different online. We’re removed. We feel invincible. We can type things that we may not actually say or think in the offline world.

But expressing sexism through supporting or condoning the violent rape of women online is a problem regardless of whether that’s something you would admit to in person. It’s not ok, and hopefully Facebook will now start to convey that message.