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Facebook, nude photos and online harassment


Jane Osmond
WVoN co-editor

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.

  1. vicki wharton says:

    The totally contempt for human rights abuses against women on line show a basic contempt for women’s human rights per se. Male culture has been portraying us as sexual beasts of burden without human feelings for years now, and this is eroding our lived human rights in the real world. 110,000 rapes in this country, 600 convictions. A third of women subject to sexist attack in the home, a third of school girls attacked at school. Female foetuses aborted just for being female, 100,000 girls suffering FGM in the UK … wonder when any of this will become of any interest to any of the political parties – at all? If men regarded us as equal, wouldn’t some of the above matter to any of them enough to stop the media training programme for the next bunch of male supremists?

  2. Hi Vicky, I feel your frustration deeply. All we can do is keep on keeping on. Here is another article about Facebook’s sexism – on the face of it mildly amusing but in reality just another example of the misogyny that underpins the site.

  3. vicki wharton says:

    Hi Jane
    It’s not frustration I feel, it’s fear … I was raped twice before I even got to the age of 15 and I have a five year old daughter. Having seen five rapists up close and personal one thing I know is that they are not monsters, or twisted individuals … just boys who had been brought up in a culture that had taught them that their yes counted a whole lot more than my no. It’s as simple as that and nothing has changed in the intervening years, in fact its got worse – with boys growing up surrounded by a culture that now portrays girls as fuck dolls – no rights, no opinions, no value. How do I protect my daughter in a culture that doesn’t value her for anything apart from servicing some 15 year old boy’s sexual appetite?

    • Wow, Vicki, I hear you. My daughter’s 6 and I’m really scared for her.

      We can only do what we can to educate our daughters and never give up trying.

      • vicki wharton says:

        Hi Karen
        Its not our daughters that are the potential rapists – its other people’s sons. The highest group of women suffering sexist physical assaults are girls under the age of 18. 1 in 3 girls under the age of 16 have been subjected to a sexist assault at school. These girls are not assaulting themselves FFS – and racism and apartheid wasn’t sorted out by the black population – it lost popularity when white people stood up against the white bigots. Until parents with boys in numbers and grown men stop protecting and excusing the violent sexist bigots and rapists amongst boys then all the female focused education you like will not stop the violent discrimination our daughters are growing up surrounded by. My daughter’s school wouldn’t even tackle her dad when he didn’t do her homework with her when she stays at his – I had to threaten to take them to Ofsted for gender discrimination and for failing to support my daughter in dealing with parental neglect before they would have a word with him.

        • Hi Vicki,
          I wasn’t trying to be controversial, I agree with everything you say. I was just saying that viv-a-vis my daughter, I’m going to make such she understands exactly how all this kind of crap works.
          The same will go for my son. And he won’t be excused anything.

          • vicki wharton says:

            Sorry Karen
            Don’t mean to vent my frustration on the converted! Its just such a big white elephant sitting in the room that schools, parents and society is simply not addressing. Sexist assaults are treated as if they come out of nowhere and do no real damage – I lose track of the times I pick up friends of my daughter’s getting in to boys are better than girls and vice versa whilst parents smile indulgently in a way they simply wouldn’t if their children were stating white kids are better than black kids. Sexism seems to be treated as if it’s no big deal when in truth it kills two women a week – and sexist/domestic attacks are the third biggest category of crime in the UK. Its so hard to get people to see that the violence is a direct consequence of the attitude of a superior gender over an inferior one using violence to enforce this viewpoint.

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