by Ty Slobe

As young activists from all over the world, the SPARK team largely depends on social media platforms like Facebook to organize, communicate, and build relationships in a safe way. We feel that in supporting violence against women through approving and protecting graphic, violent, misogynist content, Facebook is both impeding on our safe space and promoting violent acts against girls and women. In alliance with numerous women’s rights organizations led by Women, Action & The Media (WAM!)The Everyday Sexism Project, and writer Soraya Chemaly, we are collectively calling on Facebook to:

  1. Recognize speech that trivializes or glorifies violence against girls and women as hate speech and make a commitment that you will not tolerate this content.
  2. Effectively train moderators to recognize and remove gender-based hate speech.
  3. Effectively train moderators to understand how online harassment differently affects women and men, in part due to the real-world pandemic of violence against women.
You can read the open letter explaining the details and history of this campaign here, including information about how activists have been talking about this problem–and Facebook has been ignoring us–for years.

I have been connected to social media websites in some way since 2004 when I was 13 and made my first MySpace account. My relationship with social media has lasted longer than most of my human relationships. Anyone who has been connected to social media as long as I have can probably vouch that social media helps us shape our relationships with each other, our resources for organizing, and in many senses our understanding of the world. The internet constitutes—and expands—a large portion of my world.

Social media platforms like Facebook offer a lot of potential for organizing and creating safe spaces. For example, SPARK uses a private Facebook group to do all of our sharing of information, planning, organizing, chatting, and supporting. It’s great! In this sense, Facebook offers a wonderful service that allows us as a team to come together from all around the globe and collaborate to make the world a safer place for girls and women. Countless other activist groups use social media for the same purposes. In fact, much of our work would be impossible without social media sites like Facebook allowing us to connect with one another and with our audience and supporters. I am greatly appreciative of the fact that Facebook has created a reality for me in which girls from different places, backgrounds, ages, and perspectives can easily collaborate and work together for a greater goal in a safe way.

Because of that appreciation, it’s upsetting to see Facebook as a company is not doing everything in their power to protect girls and women. BY allowing groups and images on their website that condones violence against women and girls, Facebook perpetuates a culture that condones and practices violence against women. In the same way that we talk about how girls being bombarded with media images can negatively shape our understandings of our own bodies, the things we see on Facebook matter and affect us. Facebook wants you to be affected by the content that you see and the relationships that you maintain on their website. They make money off of it. That’s the entire point of social media!

Facebook (rightfully) takes pride in the positive real-world impact that their product produces. Facebook and other social media sites are certainly to thank for SPARK’s own success in sharing our own actions and seeing them through to success. Perpetuating social movements is one thing that Facebook does very well. But social media as a platform for perpetuation is something that goes both ways. Currently, Facebook is not only helping its 1 billion users organize in positive ways, but they are helping people organize to promote violence, rape, assault, and misogyny.

Facebook already has policies against hate speech and violence that they are simply choosing not to enforce when it comes to hate speech and violence against women. Facebook’s moderators regularly remove content that perpetuates violence and hate speech against LGBTQ groups, racism, Islamophobia, and anti-Semitism. These same moderators stand by while violence against women is promoted and perpetuated, calling graphic images of beaten and bruised women “off-color humor” instead of what it is: hate speech. Identity-based violence needs to be stopped no matter what the targeted identity is. Violence against women needs to be stopped in the same way that violence against all other groups needs to be stopped; women are no less worthy of the right to seek safe spaces, including on the Internet.

It is shocking, wrong, and disgusting that Facebook does not remove groups that perpetuate violence against women like Fly Kicking Sluts in the Uterus, Kicking your Girlfriend in the Fanny because she won’t make you a Sandwich, Violently Raping Your Friend Just for Laughs, Raping your Girlfriend, etc. It’s even more horrific that Facebook does not remove these pages and content under the premise that they are considered “humor” when they do regularly remove images of women breastfeeding, or block accounts because of non-graphic content posted after Slut Walk events.

People who commit violent acts against women do not deserve or need safe spaces to organize, collaborate, glorify, and promote these acts. As an influential company and platform, Facebook has both an opportunity and a responsibility to stop the perpetuation of violent acts. So far, they are failing miserably.

Join our movement in targeting companies that advertise with Facebook in encouraging them to pull their revenue from the violence-promoting website. Use social media to pressure Facebook’s biggest source of revenue—advertisers—into pressuring Facebook into making their product safer for women. Several companies have already pulled their advertising dollars, and together, we can make change happen.