Censorship is always a tricky subject when it comes to the Internet. The lines can get so blurred that deciphering where one side ends and the other begins is like trying to see the boat in one of those Magic Eye pictures from the nineties.
Every now and again, however, something brings this prickly issue to the forefront of the collective Internet brain. This time, it’s #FBrape.
If you’re [somehow] unaware, the #FBrape Campaign was launched by WAM!, with the goal of forcing Facebook “to take concrete, effective action to end gender-based hate speech” in response to a growing number of Facebook groups with names like “Kicking sluts in the vagina”. You can hit the Google for more backstory, but, to sum up, Facebook agreed to review their policy after a huge stink was made about the issue.
Now, let’s clear a few things up.
It’s Not Censorship
Facebook is “free”, so it’s easy to forget that it’s a company. We’re not talking about a company that purports to deliver unbiased information, such as a news outlet, just a plain old company. When Facebook takes something down, they will usually have a good reason—if for no other reason than to not piss off their user-base—but they don’t have to. This isn’t the government silencing you on the street, this the nightclub management telling you that you have to wear shoes to get in.
More Credit Than They Deserve?
Supporters of #FBrape constantly bring up Facebook’s stance on images of breastfeeding as an example of the absurdity of this situation. “They take down pictures of women breastfeeding, but think it’s okay to show pictures that incite rape?!?!?!”
Let’s be clear, Facebook has no official qualm with breastfeeding. They state, quite clearly, that photos which show a fully exposed breast are against the rules. This is about nudity, not breastfeeding.
Social networks like Facebook try to make things as black and white as possible, because grey areas, and subjectivity mean complicated and messy interactions. They have a stance on nudity, so, when someone complains about a picture of a breastfeeding mother who has a big ol’ boob out on full show, the moderators see that there is an exposed boob. The rest of the picture is irrelevant to them; they have clear guidelines on nudity, and there is some nudity. Case closed.
When it comes to the things #FBrape campaigned against, things aren’t so clear cut. Take the pictures, for example. How do we know the woman with a horrendous black eye got said black eye from a man? How do we know the smiling guy carrying the unconscious girl isn’t her boyfriend, taking her to the bedroom to sleep it off?
Of course, it’s not the pictures themselves that #FBrape wanted gone, it’s the groups, which brings me onto my next point.
Some Mistakes != All Mistakes
Despite the subjectiveness of this matter, a good number of groups were clearly hate speech. The aforementioned “Kicking sluts in the vagina” implies nothing less than a desire to do so. The fact that some were clearly in the wrong, however, does not mean that all were.
Facebook initially claimed that “crude attempts at humour” were not a violation of their policies. For some groups, this was an accurate statement. A picture of a bruised woman with the caption “Next time, don’t get pregnant” is undoubtedly offensive to a good number of people, and implies an act that no reasonable person would attempt, but there’s no call to action, and you’d be stretching to say that it implies one.
The end result of #FBrape makes me both happy and sad. I’m happy that Facebook will no longer consider blatant incitement to harm to women as crude humour, but I’m sad that they’ll be “refining” their policies. They already have a policy against hate speech, they just needed educating that some of these groups fall under that umbrella.
Refining policies in this context gives me the impression that there’ll soon be a gender-specific subsection to Facebook’s policy on hate speech, which, I feel, should be unnecessary.
Hate speech is hate speech.