Censored Facebook Ads Are A Step Toward A More Pro-Woman Online Community

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TW: Rape, Sexual Assault. Some links contain graphic content

If you haven’t heard about the hashtag #FBrape, let me bring you up to speed. Recently, Women, Action, and the Media and The Everyday Sexism Project took to Twitter to spread awareness about how Facebook refuses to remove content that condones, encourages, or trivializes violence against women. Apparently this, this, this, and this didn’t violate their terms. They were flagged but never removed, but you know what they would remove? Photos of women breastfeeding and tattooed breast cancer survivors. Not to mention anatomical drawings of female sex organs. So what did these groups do? They asked for prominent advertisers on Facebook to remove their ads to help exert pressure, 15 of which did so.

Yesterday, Facebook issued a statement claiming they will review their terms and training to get this problem solved. In their statement they explain:

“In recent days, 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.  In other cases, content that should be removed has not been or has been evaluated using outdated criteria. We have been working over the past several months to improve our systems to respond to reports of violations, but the guidelines used by these systems have failed to capture all the content that violates our standards. We need to do better – and we will.”

On the one hand, I understand the free speech argument. Clearly, these images should be protected because “they’re just jokes” and they shouldn’t be taken seriously. More to the point, though, banning this content won’t stop the trivialization and encouragement of violence against women. Silencing this stuff doesn’t really help someone understand how it encourages violence, and we definitely need more education to stop the problems that these images simply reflect.

At the same time, after looking at the photos and seeing the double standard of Facebook, I understand the outrage. I’m outraged! This is a violation of values that Facebook purports to uphold. Facebook is not Reddit or 4chan (bastions of free speech on the internet); it has standards to reach this balance, and they have a right to moderate their own forum. Their “Community Standards” already included things such as violence, threats, self-harm, bullying and harassment, hate speech, graphic content, nudity and pornography, and intellectual property. It should have also extended to violence against women.

Now it does. The truth is, Facebook is a private company that maintains their own standards and can do whatever they please when it comes to limiting speech on their site. Facebook is taking a step in the right direction.