Facebook, nude photos and online harassment
Last year, Women’s Views on News went into battle with Facebook because it would not remove a page containing rape jokes, stating that ‘just as telling a rude joke won’t get you thrown out of your local pub, it won’t get you thrown off Facebook’.
After four months, during which time the campaign went global, Facebook finally capitulated and took the offending page down in December 2011.
However, instead of adhering to its own terms and conditions, Facebook merely changed the guidelines, stating that if they were tagged as humorous, they could stay up (haha Facebook, rape is completely funny, NOT).
During the campaign, I came across instances where Facebook, whilst allowing rape jokes to stay up, would move swiftly to take down breast-feeding pictures.
I know, right?
Most recently this policy was used in February to take down photos of Canadian mother Emma Kwasnica who said that about 30 photos in which she was breastfeeding her children had been labelled as ‘obscene’ and ‘sexually explicit’.
A closer look at Facebook’s image and post-approval system was discussed by the writer Rowan Davies in the Guardian, who pointed out, sandwiched between “depiction of sexual assault or rape” and “bestiality, necrophilia and paedophilia” is “breastfeeding photos showing other nudity, or nipple clearly exposed”.
So, rape jokes can stay up, but pictures of nipples, especially if those nipples are being used to feed a baby cannot. However, nipples used as sexual objects can: a quick search of Facebook revealed hundreds of pictures of breasts and nipples, with the latter often barely covered with a wet t-shirt, and sometimes not covered at all.
In fact, the search revealed numerous images of women in sexual poses all over Facebook, which is possibly why a woman in Australia had to run to an ex-boyfriend’s flat and demand that he take down pictures of her which he had posted to Facebook, pictures that included her in ‘nude in certain positions and clearly showing her breasts and genitalia’.
When he refused, she called the police, possibly her only option because contacting Facebook would be a complete waste of time.
Amazingly, in this case, the ex-boyfriend was taken to court, prosecuted and sent to prison for six months. This has been hailed ‘as a landmark social media-related conviction for Australia and one of just a handful in the world’.
This type of case demonstrates how the disregard of women’s rights online is legion, and is evidenced by the Twitter furore over a hashtag containing vile comments against the rape victim of UK footballer Ched Evans, as this post on the F-Word outlines.
Even more disturbing than the comments, which I will not repeat here, is the suggestion that the woman’s identity has been outed.
Comments from a spokesperson at the cyberspace law and policy centre at the University of New South Wales underlines how online harassment is not seen as serious when compared to physical offences, and that current laws are insufficient when applied to cyberspace.
It seems to me that Facebook, which reported 845 million monthly active users at the end of December 2011, is in a unique position to work with the law to address the very real harm that people can suffer through harassment on its platform.
Further, it could also develop a coherent online policy on sexual violence and the objectification of women and thus set the standard for what will and will not be acceptable for ALL online platforms.
But no, instead let’s take down some more breastfeeding pictures, because showing breasts for their natural purpose is obviously obscene, while showing them for sexual titillation is not.
Given that this dichotomy reflects the sexual objectification of women all over the world, I think we can all guess how many women are in charge at Facebook.
That’s right - NONE.