Blocked for being a “bad girl?” (Trigger warning)

AWR when blockedI was temporarily blocked from Facebook (i.e. access to my personal account and my four pages) on Wednesday, May 22.

It happened after I posted content in support of an open letter demanding “swift, comprehensive and effective action addressing the representation of rape and domestic violence on Facebook.”

Was I given the Facebook equivalent of a slap on the wrist for being a “bad girl?” Or was Facebook legitimately trying to enforce its community standards, particularly in the aftermath of the open letter?

The sequence of events follows; you be the judge.

Early Tuesday evening I post a question (the exact wording of which I don’t recall now), a link to the open letter (which has so far been shared almost 5,000 times), and the image below on AmazingWomenRock.com’s Facebook page; thus:

Do you think this kind of content is acceptable on Facebook? If not, see more information here: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/soraya-chemaly/an-open-letter-to-faceboo_1_b_3307394.html Please share.

Tape her and rape her

Tape her and rape her

I have many comments about the disgusting nature of the content. I explain to commenters that advertisers have no control over where their ads appear on Facebook. In comment replies, I also include a link to the open letter on the WAM page.

At 23:22 and 23:27 I receive messages from Kariemah Kay-Caroll and Tanya McGovern respectively (whom I don’t know); they say: “There’s something about this image that bothers me.” (Or the like). I suspect it’s the standard message page owners such as myself get when a user reports content she or he finds offensive.

(Click here to find out how to report hate speech, spam or other inappropriate content on Facebook.)

I think, although I don’t know for sure, that Kariemah Kay-Caroll and Tanya McGovern reported the content I posted as inappropriate because they looked at the image and failed to read the message above it. Their reports caused me to be sent the “…something about this image…” message, and to subsequently be blocked by Facebook.

This is the first time since creating the AmazingWomenRock Facebook page in 2008 that I have received such a message. I have posted literally thousands of posts on the page (which has 38,000+ Likes), advocating for women’s rights, inspiring women, speaking out for women, and speaking against violence against women. I also run three other pages (SheQuotes, FindingPINK, and WhatLifeIs). I’ve never had any problems with any of them.

I respond to Kariemah and Tanya with this message:

“There’s something about it that bothers me too. That’s why it’s up there: AWR is a page run by me. The pictures such as this one are posted on pages such as “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. The pages have been created by people (presumably men) who think it’s OK, funny, etc. to post images and videos about violence against women. Advertisers have no discretion regarding the pages on which their ads appear of FB. Surely most would not support this kind of content. The point of the campaign is to pressure advertisers to pressure Facebook to do something about the unacceptable content. Read the background here: http://www.womenactionmedia.org/facebookaction/open-letter-to-facebook/”

I call it a night just before midnight on Tuesday.

When I wake up around 06:00 on Wednesday, I pick up my iPad to play a turn or two on my Scrabble app before I start the day (I know, I’m eccentric, but I’m OK with it!). Lo and behold, I’m prevented from doing my morning word workout because I can’t login to Facebook. When I try, I get this message:Facebook removed

When I click on continue, I get this message:

Blocked!

Blocked!

Hmmmm. I check in with Laura Bates of Women, Action, & Media (WAM). “Have all the #VAW images and pages on FB been taken down?” I wonder in an email.

Apparently not. While my content protesting the existence of such content has been removed, and I, the administrator of the “offending” page, have been blocked, countless images like the ones below (captured by WAM throughout Wednesday) are still up elsewhere on Facebook.

The examples used in the open letter include some of the ones in the next gallery below, some shown beside advertising as they would appear on a Facebook page.

According to WAM and others, there are hundreds of similar images, and videos including many that are even more violent than the ones I’ve reproduced here. (I know it’s hard to imagine).

Can it really be possible that some people think this kind of thing is a joke? That it’s funny? These kind of images desensitize (at the very least), and legitimize (at worst) acts of violence and brutality against girls and women.

If you were an advertiser, would you want your ads to appear next to this kind of content?

WAM captures new images on a daily basis here.

All my pages remain intact throughout the “blockade,” which includes 12 hours of no access whatsoever to Facebook, and a further six hours during which I can login, but cannot use it and so cannot administer my pages, post or share content, make comments etcetera. (I could play Scrabble though :P)

In a supreme piece of irony, Stop the Worldwide War on Girls posted the image below on its Facebook page early this morning.Stop the war on girls post

It captures an ad for Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg’s book (bottom right) with a gallery of images advocating violence against women.

Perhaps even MORE ironic (if that’s possible) is this:

Two hours after this post went live (i.e. 17:00 Friday May 24), I learn (via a Twitter friend) that the content for which I was blocked (i.e. the “tape her and rape her” image) is still up (!), and has been since it was originally posted in February. It may or may not still be there by the time you read this.

(Susan notes: on Saturday May 25, at 16:17, I posted an update “I’m confused Facebook…” containing even more irony. Sometime in the hour or so after that post went live, the page on which the offending content appeared was taken down by Facebook. A tiny victory in a much bigger war.)

Don’t get me wrong. I have nothing against Facebook. On the contrary, I’m grateful to the social media giant for providing me (and millions of others) a platform to connect with people worldwide, share interesting, relevant and engaging information, and be part of a dynamic global community.

Likewise, I have nothing against Sheryl Sandberg. She is an amazing woman, a powerhouse in business and technology. Her talk at TEDWomen a few years ago was powerful and insightful. I have a page full of her quotes on AmazingWomenRock.com, and I used her as an example in my own TEDx talk on gender parity in 2009.

Nonetheless, I, like others have called for this kind of destructive content to be quickly removed from Facebook if and when it surfaces. In 2011, close to a quarter of a million people signed an online petition asking for Facebook to clean up its act in this regard. Why is this still an issue?

Several reasons, including Facebook’s apparent lack of sensitivity to violence against women issues.

In a 2011 Guardian UK article, Cath Elliott wrote:

“Facebook’s initial response to the public outcry was to suggest that promoting violence against women was equivalent to telling a rude joke down the pub: “It is very important to point out that what one person finds offensive another can find entertaining” went the bizarre rape apologia. “Just as telling a rude joke won’t get you thrown out of your local pub, it won’t get you thrown off Facebook.”

It seems Facebook’s stance hasn’t changed much since 2011. According to The Irish Times yesterday, Facebook said:

“some “vulgar and offensive” content will remain on the site on the basis that it is free speech, not hate speech.

“As you may expect in any diverse community of more than a billion people, we occasionally see people post distasteful or disturbing content, or make crude attempts at humour. While it may be vulgar and offensive, distasteful content on its own does not violate our policies.””

Facebook is also quoted as saying it tries “to make it very easy for people to report questionable content” and that “the particular pages mentioned in the letter have now been removed.

True enough. The reporting process I describe here is simple, although one has to know to hover in the top right hand corner of the post to get the ball rolling.

However, it seems unlikely to me that the people who frequent these pages would report the content as hate speech. Clearly they think it’s OK. Otherwise they wouldn’t be posting it, joking about it and defending it. That said, Facebook has other ways of ferreting out inappropriate content, or so I’ve been told.

One thing I know for sure is the punishment meted out to me (undeserved though it was) for posting an image that “violates Facebook community standards” was swift and unforgiving.

So it should be with the real culprits. Those who, according to Facebook’s own community standards “attack others based on their race, ethnicity, national origin, religion, sex, gender, sexual orientation, disability or medical condition.”

They’re the bad guys, not me. Wise up Facebook.

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26 thoughts on “Blocked for being a “bad girl?” (Trigger warning)

    • Well, to be fair, censorship is a bit of a slippery slope… When does my right to be safe supersede your right to say what you want (even if what you want is hateful and violent), and vice versa?

      Another issue is: I am using their platform; they own it, they built, I’m using it. Should I not abide by their rules? It’s theirs after all… they get to make the rules, no? An option would be for everyone who opposes the ongoing appearance of this kind of content to simply stop using Facebook.

      Or, by virtue of having embedded themselves in the lives of millions, do they have a moral responsibility to improve the overall health and well being of humanity by taking a stance against violence against women?

      I don’t know the answers. I’m simply throwing the questions out there for debate.

      • No, this is great! I am hesitant to answer because we’re treading in legal matters/lingo that I’m not too familiar with. But I’ll try!

        Censorship – That’s why we have cases that have set precedents, and I’m pretty sure this is something that wouldn’t be legal. Actually, it’s quite harmful.

        My Platform – I think boycotting the platform is a great idea, but I also think it extends to more than just the argument of “this is my platform”. It sets a precedent of violence against women.

        Moral Responsibility – I think this is definitely arguable, but I think in a way yes. It’s like they have an obligation to be mindful of racism and homophobia. They did mention that they have “report” buttons, but the writer makes a good point that it would only be reported if the viewer considers it awful.

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  3. Facebook needs to think much more deeply about how it responds to images of violence against women and its own reaction and blocking of its Facebook users who are critical of what Facebook is supporting and allowing. Facebook doesn’t block denigrating images of women, but it blocks women who object. Not good. This sends a very unhealthy, inconsistent, and confusing message to men and women, as well as to all the teens who use Facebook.

    ( I posted the above on my Facebook page along with your post)

    • Thank you so much! I will be doing a follow-up blog post later today. I would love for you to follow my blog if possible – this is a new blog from me and I’m grateful for new followers 🙂 And thanks for your comment too. Susan

  4. I’m stunned.. I’ve never encountered this stuff on FB, but I’m stunned and amazed that FB could attempt to justify it’s actions as defending the right to ‘Free Speech’ (whilst simultaneously censoring pictures of breast feeding mother’s, or any pictures of breasts whatsoever..wtf?) One man’s free speech is another man’s incitement to violence. These images quite plainly represent the latter. The fact that a minority of sexually frustrated teenage boys find them amusing is not a good enough argument to leave them up. I’m simply amazed that they could ignore the evident public opinion. I’ll take a wild guess and say that half of FB’s employees are female.. Why are they not jumping down Zuckerberg’s throat over this?!

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