Facebook Responds to #FBrape Campaign

Guest blogger Beth Sherouse writes about the recent success of the #FBrape campaign and Facebook’s promise to better regulate content that promotes sexual violence.

More than a dozen advertisers pulled their support from Facebook this May in response to a campaign spearheaded by Women, Action, and the Media (WAM!), The Everyday Sexism Project, and author/activist Soraya Chemaly. The #FBrape campaign called on the social networking site to enact “comprehensive and effective action addressing the representation of rape and domestic violence on Facebook.” While individual users had often reported pages with titles like “Violently Raping Your Friend Just for Laughs” and “Kicking Your Girlfriend in the Fanny because she won’t make you a Sandwich” for violating Facebook’s terms of use, many of the offending pages remained active, and removed content was often reposted by other users.

The #FBrape campaign mobilized activists worldwide in criticism of Facebook’s failure to censor pages and content that joked about and encouraged sexual and domestic violence. By focusing its efforts on advertisers, the campaign eventually prompted companies such as Nissan to pull their advertising from the social networking site. The campaign’s efforts were further bolstered by a Change.org petition that received more than 224,000 signatures demanding that Facebook ban groups promoting sexual violence. In the end, these combined efforts successfully pressured Facebook into changing its practices. The company agreed to heighten its regulation of content that violated its terms of service and to crack down specifically on pages that promoted rape and gender-based violence. Facebook also changed its advertising policies to remove ads from pages with sexual or violent content.

While the #FBrape campaign reignited the controversy surrounding such social media content, this is not the first time Facebook has received criticism for failing to restrict pages and posts that encourage or joke about rape, violence against women, and other forms of gender-based hate speech. In 2011, for example, Facebook was the target of a petition campaign that resulted in it reluctantly removing group pages that encouraged rape. These repeated controversies suggest that it is still essential for social media users to raise awareness of sexual and domestic violence and hold sites like Facebook accountable for the content they allow users to publish, while holding companies accountable for where they advertise.

WAM! and its partners are still working to hold Facebook to the commitments they’ve made, and they acknowledge that although the month-long campaign is over, the fight to end the culture of sexual and domestic violence on social media isn’t. The continued prevalence of such content on popular social media sites is disturbing and indicative of a culture that needs to take sexual and domestic violence much more seriously. However, WAM’s successful campaign shows that, as the New York Times editorial board recently suggested, “sexism is a deeply entrenched problem that society has to battle collectively because individual voices far too often go unheeded.”

Beth Sherouse recently earned her Ph.D. in History from the University of South Carolina. She has been a gay rights activist for 10 years and has a passion for politics, local government, and rescuing basset hounds.