#FBRape Victory – Facebook pledges to tackle gender-based hate speech

Following the enormous #FBRape campaign, orchestrated by The Everyday Sexism Project and Women, Action and the Media (WAM!), Facebook is changing its policy on content promoting violence against women. A large part of the campaign was the appeal to companies to stop buying advertising space on the social networking site until they reviewed their stance on these issues.

We need to do better”, said Facebook representatives in their official statement, “and we will.” Until this landmark change, female nudity in a non-sexualised context – whilst breastfeeding, for example, or images of mastectomy scars – would be removed under the social network’s decency guidelines, whilst ‘joke’ images propagating sexual or gendered violence would be allowed to stay on the grounds that they cannot police content intended for ‘humour’, however offensive it may be.

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Critics of the new measures are claiming it’s a violation of the intrinsic right to freedom of speech, and indeed, this is the line Facebook first took until the campaign really began to take hold. Before the pressure from advertisers and consumers began to mount, they had made this statement to the Huffington Post;

“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.”

Because obviously people NEED the freedom to incite rape, domestic violence and misogyny. It’s a basic right of democracy, surely. The people demand it. Want to call for violence against homosexuals, Jews, or ethnic minorities too? Well, it’s a free country! It is your RIGHT to perpetuate violence against minority groups. Never mind that when you sign up to use Facebook, you are agreeing to conform to their regulations and rules – the ones that now include the prohibition of posts inciting the abuse of women – because goddamnit, FREE SPEECH!

I hope it’s obvious why this argument doesn’t hold up. 

We can all applaud Facebook for finally taking these steps, even if the cynic in me is thinking it came perhaps more the result of the loss of advertising revenue, as opposed to a shift in their moral compass. However, we can certainly all applaud those who started and joined the campaign, who helped to shine a light on the casual sexism that pervades society and is so often dismissed as unimportant –  or worse, as funny. 

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