MySpace was a popular social network several years ago, but it was quickly taken over by Facebook and pretty much disappeared. Now, the most popular social network is showing very bad judgment.
Last week, protesters boycotted Facebook advertising because the network permitted images of domestic violence against women at the same time that it banned ads about women’s health. Companies that pulled their advertising include online bank Nationwide UK, Nissan UK, and J Street. Dove, a Unilever brand running a “self-esteem” ad campaign for women, faces pressure on Twitter although Procter & Gamble responded, “We can’t control what content they [our advertising] pops up next to. Obviously it’s a shame that our ad happened to pop up next to it.”
Zappos replied that users upset by an ad appearing next to a date rape image “click the X to delete the ad.” Zipcar is still advertising but “expressed to Facebook the critical need to block this content from appearing.” Audible will also keep its advertising on Facebook:
“Audible does not condone or endorse violence against women,” but it “takes pride in and respects the rules that govern our Facebook community and because of this we do not delete negative posts. However, we must delete, and will continue to delete, any content that contains offensive, graphic images.”
As of this morning, 15 companies have disassociated from Facebook advertising.
A Facebook spokesperson said that content featuring battered women, rape, and violence falls under “poor taste” or “crude attempts at humor, but it does not violate its policies. The network screens anti-Semitic, Islamaphobic, and homophobic hate speech but not images of violence against women. At the same time, Facebook rejected an ad about breast cancer because it showed a woman’s breast.
The ad about breast cancer disputes false claims that abortion causes higher instances of breast cancer. The company argued that the ad violated their guidelines preventing the “advertising [of] adult products or services, including toys, videos, or sexual enhancement products.” The ad linked to a page on the National Cancer Institute website reassuring women that “having an abortion or miscarriage does not increase a woman’s subsequent risk of developing breast cancer.”
Michelle Kinsey Bruns, the online manager of Women’s Media Center and the creator of the ad, said that the rejection shows “the absolute inconsistency that Facebook is willing to apply to a woman’s body as an object of violence, but a woman’s body as a medical object is too scandalous to be approved.”
Also removed from Facebook have been images of “mastectomies, breastfeeding mothers, and other non-sexualized depictions of women’s bodies” and labeling them as “pornographic,” while allowing photographs and forums that make light of abusing and raping women. That content often falls under the “humor” section of Facebook’s content guidelines.
Examples of what Facebook refused to remove—because of the “humor”—are a page titled “Slapping Hookers in the Face with a Shoe” and a picture of a woman lying in a pool of blood with the slogan “I like her for her brains.”
In The Guardian, Emer O’Toole defined the problem:
“The [protest]holds a mirror up to a pervasive element of our culture that many either fail to acknowledge or aggressively insist that feminists laugh off. Officially, violent misogyny is not condoned, and most corporations won’t endanger their brands by being associated with it. Unofficially, violent misogyny is still very much de rigueur. Facebook is a conduit between these official and unofficial attitudes to women and, as such, provides an opportunity for radical intervention.”
Since the protest started a week ago, over 100 women’s movement and social justice organizations have become involved, and people have sent over 60,000 tweets and 5000 emails in an attempt to end gender-based hate speech on Facebook.
The petition that people signed had four demands. The first one reads:
“Make a public statement that rape is never acceptable; that promoting sexual violence and violence against women is repugnant; that Facebook will remove content that advocates rape, sexual violence, and violence against women; and that the terms of service/community standards will be updated to specify this.”
Last month, Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg was under fire because his political group to back immigration reform switched to spending millions of dollars on ads promoting the Keystone XL tar sands pipeline. Activist organizations, including MoveOn.org, the Sierra Club, the League of Conservation Voters and Progressives United, suspended Facebook advertising in protest. Zuckerberg’s PAC, supposedly a progressive organization, also ran ads praising Sen. Mark Begich (D-AK) for trying to open up the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge to drilling and Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) for attacking Obamacare.
”We prohibit content deemed to be directly harmful, but allow content that is offensive or controversial. We define harmful content as anything organizing real world violence, theft, or property destruction, or that directly inflicts emotional distress on a specific private individual (e.g. bullying).
“We realize that our defense of freedom of expression should never be interpreted as license to bully, harass, abuse or threaten violence.”
Toward that end, they said that they would review and update their guidelines and update training for teams who evaluate reports of “hateful speech or harmful content on Facebook.” In addition, Facebook claims it “will increase the accountability of the creators of content that does not qualify as actionable hate speech but is cruel or insensitive by insisting that the authors stand behind the content they create.”
We all need to watch Facebook and see if they live up to their promises.