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Groundswell grows against pornographic Facebook pages

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Jane Osmond
WVoN co-editor

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.

Really?

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.

Please sign the petition and if you want to get involved, please contact Lily here.

  1. i agree, how can we combine forces against fb?

  2. A coordinated plea to fb shareholders from all the movements may help. Many small pushes rather one big push. Let’s them know that there is disappointment from many areas. One shareholder in particular may be worth seeking out, Bono of U2 has a influential record on human rights and his media company Elevation Partners made a reported $1b from fb shares last year. I feel if fb and its shareholder have many groups objecting they take more notice!

  3. In my observation, part of the problem is that you often cannot just report a page – you will get the reply that it does not contravene the terms – you need to report individual items of content. If you do the latter, the content will be removed. If the page then persists posting such content after a warning, Facebook will then delete the page. The problem with this is that if you find a page that contains pornography you will have to go through each individual image and report to get it removed. If the page contains hundreds of images, as some do, this is an unpleasant, time-consuming task.

    Facebook does take action to enforce it’s policies but, like most large sites with user-generated content, they rely entirely on users’ reports and unless there are users committed to actively seeking out and reporting such content the bulk of it remains.

    There has to be a way to make this process easier. An individual can only do so much.

  4. Also FB allows animal abuse and beastiality websites; Several people have complained about this and fb closed the accounts of people that complained but left the disgusting websites advocating sex with animals up and running. Any idea who to complain to about fb as these websites are violating the law.

    • As long as they aren’t posting beastiality images they are not breaking the law and, as repulsive as the ideas are to us, they are covered by free speech laws.

      FB doesn’t have to allow it, but they have chosen to draw the line at nudity/pornography and illegal content (including some forms of hate speech).

      I understand the difficulty they face knowing where to draw the line on offensive content. If someone on those pages is clearly facilitating and inciting people to break the law they may remove it but someone simply describing an offensive practice, even favourably, probably won’t get removed.

      If you think something is illegal on Facebook and their moderators don’t remove it you could try reporting it to your local police instead. Organisations that deal with child bullying, in particular, are good at getting Facebook to remove stuff and, I believe they have direct contacts within Facebook Inc.

      • That is the problem nowadays, people don’t respect or care about the concept of doing harm to others as crossing a line in right and wrong. They see it as a matter of taste or causing offense rather than the fact they are happy to cause harm to someone else. We have a couple of generations now that have been brought up on a mantra that if someone doesn’t like what they are doing or promoting should be done to another group of people ie sexist, racist, homophobic, religious or ageist intimidation, then that group or person should go somewhere else. We live in a culture now run by fascist white male bullies, brought up to believe by The Sun, Daily Mail and lads mags that human equality and respect is merely ‘political’ correctness rather than just correct.

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