Before 6:00 p.m. Tuesday evening, these are all posts that complied with Facebook’s community standards:
-A photograph of a woman, unconscious at the bottom of a stairwell with the caption “Next time, don’t get pregnant.”
-A photograph of a woman lying in a pool of blood that flows from a wound in her head with the text “I like her for her brains.”
-A photograph of a man leaning over a woman with a napkin and the text, “Win her over with chloroform. Chloroform: the way real men get the girl.”
(To further erode your faith in humanity, see the full list of posts compiled by Women, Action, and the Media here).
Despite their policy of quickly removing racist, homophobic, or religious hate speech, Facebook regularly allowed violent misogynistic content to remain on their site—a position they publically defended saying, “we occasionally see people … make crude attempts at humor. While it may be vulgar and offensive, distasteful content on its own does not violate our policies." Hate speech against women, according to Facebook, wasn’t really hate speech so much it was off-color humor. So just grow a thicker skin ladies, because joking about the leading cause of injury for 15 to 44-year-old women is distasteful, but let’s not overreact here!
Moved to action by Facebook’s inconsistent enforcement of hate speech regulation policies, Women, Action, and the Media (WAM!) has, for the last several weeks, been leading a campaign (#FBRape) to document content depicting gender-based hate speech that is allowed to remain on the site (unlike other cases of hate speech) and alert companies whose advertisements appear next to the content. As of Tuesday afternoon, fifteen companies had pulled their ads from the site after they appeared next to images containing references to domestic violence. While most of these companies are relatively small, bad press, not lost revenue, was the goal of the campaign, according to WAM! spokesperson, Jaclyn Friedman. And, as the list of companies leaving the site grew longer, it appeared to be a successful strategy.
And so, late Tuesday evening, thirty minutes after the fifteenth company removed their ads, Facebook announced it would revise its policy on hate speech, saying “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 need to do better — and we will.”
But before we congratulate Facebook on the revelation that misogyny is hate speech on par with racism or homophobia, let’s just take a moment to appreciate the fact that Facebook did not include gender-based hate in its original community standard, nor did it revise its policies after Steubenville or after any one of the other documented cases of bullies and rapists using Facebook to further torture their victims.
Instead, it took a public shame campaign and fifteen companies publically pulling ad revenue to convince Facebook that maybe — just maybe — protecting the hundreds of millions of women who use their website each day should be a priority. So while Facebook will now act to mitigate the harm done to its users through misogynistic posts, the process of public shaming for the social-networking giant is far from over.