#FBrape unleashes the power of the feminist internet

We "dislike" Facebook misogynyLast week, Katie posted about #FBrape, a campaign to pressure companies whose ads were displayed next to violently misogynistic photos (trigger warning) on Facebook to pull their support until the social media company changes its posting policy. While Facebook still hasn’t responded, #FBrape’s success over the last week shows advertisers shouldn’t mess with the feminist internet.

As of this morning, #FBrape has received 50,000 mentions on Twitter, 4,500 emails have been sent to advertisers, and more than a dozen companies have pulled their ads. Campaign co-founder Women, Action, and the Media (WAM!) is asking supporters to redouble their efforts to pressure advertisers who refuse to act, including American Express and faux-feminist Dove. If they don’t remove their ads from the misogynistic site, we won’t buy their product.

True victory, of course, will require Facebook to change its policies. WAM! Executive Director Jaclyn Friedman has confirmed that Facebook is in discussions with the #FBrape organizers, but the only public action Mr. Zuckerberg’s empire has taken thus far is the deletion of some of the specific sexist pages highlighted by the campaign. That isn’t good enough. Without a substantive policy shift, the burden of policing the huge social media network will fall on feminist activists–and there’s no reason to think their efforts will successfully rid the site of misogynistic photos.

Facebook has a full team hired for the sole purpose of responding to users who report “offensive” material, but it has regularly determined gender-based hate speech–unlike other forms of bigotry actively censored on the network–doesn’t violate community standards. A clear policy banning such photos is necessary if we want Facebook to continue responding to complaints once media scrutiny has turned elsewhere.

The fight for policy change is also an important opportunity to articulate why such sexism is destructive. Pictures like those highlighted by #FBrape don’t just offend and hurt feelings; they promote violence through glorification and trivialization. Of course, Mark Zukerberg didn’t invent misogyny. Facebook’s current policies reflect a culture in which sexual violence is a joke and breastfeeding is judged more troubling than rape. But the network’s overwhelmingly male leadership solidifies the acceptability of gender-based violence by codifying sexism into its community standards, restricting some speech while granting misogynists free reign.

Facebook’s idealistic mission has always been to build a “more open and connected” world in its virtual reflection of users’ everyday lives. Implicit in this promise is the recognition that the website will both shape and be shaped by our off-line lives. It is not surprising that violence–antithetical to the freedom and community-building Zuckerberg seeks–has worked its way into this crowdsourced society. Right now Facebook is actively reflecting this misogyny back in magnified form, like a funhouse of distorted mirrors: gender-based violence is amplified in its online expression, promoting more violence in our lives off the screen, which in turn manifests itself in online hate speech.

It would be so easy for Facebook to stop this cycle. If our complaints can’t, #FBrape shows, perhaps the threat of our dollars will.

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