Groundswell grows against pornographic Facebook pages
As regular readers of WVoN will know, we were involved in an intense campaign last year which aimed to get Facebook to take down a page that advocated rape.
After months of Facebook refusing to budge, the company eventually took the page down and amended its policies. Unfortunately this amendment specified that if a page was ‘humorous’ it could stay up.
I think Facebook’s definition of humour has a lot in common with that of the ‘comedian’ Daniel Tosh and his infamous rape joke which spawned numerous supporters arguing that these jokes are just ‘banter‘ and not to be taken seriously.
Then we have the current furore over US Republican Congressman Todd Akin’s ludicrous comments about women repelling rapist sperm and the UK politician George Galloway referring to rape as ‘bad sexual etiquette‘.
While this debate over rape jokes and rape definitions rages on in the media, Facebook faces another campaign – this time from a group of people based in the US and Australia, who have set up a petition asking Facebook to stop allowing pages featuring sex ads and pornographic content.
This petition is just one of recent concerns about Facebook’s content. Others include a backlash against images of naked children, a campaign by Porn Harms which demands that Facebook remove not only the pornography, but also the facilitation of buying and selling people on the site, a mother’s disgust over Facebook allowing a page featuring jokes about her still-born baby, and anger that when Facebook, eventually removed a racist Aboriginal meme page, no apology was offered.
The group of four behind the latest petition are arguing that – at the very least – Facebook should adhere to its own policies, in particular this section, which we at WVoN, came to know and love at the end of last year:
Section 3.7: “You will not post content that: is hate speech, threatening, or pornographic; incites violence; or contains nudity or graphic or gratuitous violence.”
In a remarkable act of denial, given that this section is contravened ALL THE TIME, Facebook is still using the same tired defence of stating that these (insert any number of vile, offensive, hate-filled, and in some cases downright illegal pages) do not violate its policies.
I spoke to two of the petitioners – Lily Munroe and Justin Morgan – about their reasons for setting up the petition.
For Lily, who is a women’s and human rights activist, the pornification of Facebook is unacceptable because it is reaching into people’s homes. Lily first came across this when she was faced with sponsored sex ads appearing on her Facebook home page.
“I found this advert totally unacceptable – it seems we can’t avoid pornography in our daily routines – not only on Facebook but also advertising in the general media.
“I explored further and realised Facebook allows pages which contain pornographic content – including nudity, derogatory language about women, sex ads, illicit pages and child porn. Not only this, the amount of such pages seems to be growing everyday.
“I then checked out Facebook’s policies which seem to proscribe against such pages, but when we reported them, Facebook said that these pages didn’t violate their policies.
“This response made me want to do something – I just couldn’t sit back any longer. It is not just adults using Facebook, the network is billed as a family platform and I have two children who both use it.”
The petition, which is less than 2 weeks old, already has 700 signatures and Lily is working with several organisations in order to encourage more. But more than this, Lily wants to capture the growing concern that is being expressed about Facebook’s poor regulatory practices.
One of the organisations with which Lily is involved is Collective Shout. Collective Shout is a grassroots campaigns movement mobilising and equipping individuals and groups to target corporations, advertisers, marketers and media which objectify women and sexualise girls to sell products and services.
For Justin, who is active in the areas of anti-trafficking and anti-porn, the petition represents a stand against a culture that consistently promotes disrespect against women and children. In his role as an ordained minister, Justin sees the harm that this disrespect causes not only to the individuals who consume pornography but also to their families and those who are coerced into the trade.
“I know in our patriarchal society we men have a great impact, and I believe that if men at large stand up for dignifying women and children – and themselves – that is what creates a healthy, safe and strong society. To do so means we can move towards a healthy sexuality by avoiding the messages promoted by the sex industry.
“On a personal level I see the struggles that people go through and the hurt that pornography causes others and the self-imprisonment it causes a man whether he sees it or not.
“My passion is for those who are affected or vulnerable to the effects of pornography; but more I care about the direction we are going in as people.”
I asked both Lily and Justin, what about freedom of speech? An argument often rolled out as a typical response to any attempt to address pornography.
For Lily, freedom of speech should not mean contravening women’s rights:
“Women have rights to live in a just society where we are not constantly portrayed as sex objects and body parts. We deserve equality and respect, integrity and rights of decency. It is about our right as human beings to live a valued life.
“We are raising children who suffer anorexia, bulimia, self-harm and depression which are clearly linked to the sexualisation of society. Then there is plastic surgery – breast, face, labia plasty, waxing – all emanating from the porn industry. Women are self-mutilating and we are killing ourselves. It is time for a change.”
For Justin, the freedom of speech argument needs to be placed in context:
“The point is that freedom of speech was not meant to be a stand-alone amendment – it has to be taken in context with all other rights and laws and protections. If free speech leads to a place where women and children are being exploited and where there is nudity in a family friendly environment – surely this is no argument?
“Given that Facebook has policies against these things and people trust Facebook to uphold them, is has responsibility to do so.”
For both Lily and Justin another goal of the petition is to raise awareness in the general public of the dangers of Facebook’s refusal to take responsibility for its platform.
As Lily states:
“We are going after the key shareholders because these people understand the language of money. Facebook’s shares have already dropped by half – how much further do they have to drop before they take action?”
I agree. Given that Facebook is now exploring how to entice even younger children onto its platform, it is time for those shareholders to take a long, hard look at what kind of messages and images they are making money out of.