BBC News

Facebook sexism campaign attracts thousands online

By Zoe Kleinman
Technology reporter, BBC News

image captionMore than 50,000 people have tweeted concerns about posts they say are degrading to women

Thousands of protesters are demanding tougher action from Facebook over posts that they say degrade women.

More than 50,000 have tweeted in support of the FBrape campaign and around 5,000 have emailed brands whose advertising appears around the content.

The campaign focuses on content that portrays rape and violence against women positively. Facebook has removed many examples already.

A separate petition online has gathered more than 220,000 signatures.

The new campaign has been organised by 40 women's groups and individuals, including US-based Women, Action and the Media (WAM) and the Everyday Sexism project, a UK-based Twitter feed that encourages women to share incidences of perceived sexism.

In an open letter to the social media giant, the groups demand "swift, comprehensive and effective action addressing the representation of rape and domestic violence on Facebook" and say they are also asking Facebook users to contact companies whose adverts appear around the offending content.

Sky, American Express and Dove beauty products are among the brands affected.

The letter also lists examples of material that the group feels is unacceptable.

They include Facebook groups with titles such as "This is why Indian girls get raped" and individual uploads of graphic photographs showing abused women.

One image of a woman lying at the foot of a flight of stairs is captioned "Next time, don't get pregnant".

'Target people's interests'

Dove, a brand owned by Unilever, said it was "most upset" by the images, but both the brand and Facebook said the examples given had since been removed from the site.

"Dove takes this issue very seriously and does not condone any activity that intentionally insults any audience," said global communications director Stacie Bright.

"We are working to refine our targeting terms in case any further pages like these are created. Facebook advertising targets people's interests, not pages, and we do not select the pages our adverts appear on."

Both Ms Bright and a spokesperson for Facebook told the BBC that the examples mentioned in the letter had now been removed from the site.

"There is no place on Facebook for hate speech or content that is threatening, or incites violence, and we will not tolerate material deemed to be genuinely or directly harmful," said Facebook in a statement.

"We try to react quickly to remove reported language or images that violate our terms and we try to make it very easy for people to report questionable content using links located throughout the site."

The company added, however, that not all material that some users might consider to be "vulgar and distasteful" actually violated its policies.

Sheer frustration

Laura Bates, founder of the Everyday Sexism project, told the BBC the campaign had been born out of "sheer frustration" from a large number women who had tried to complain about the material and had then contacted her.

"Obviously it's difficult to moderate a platform with one billion users but it is disproportionately affecting women," she said.

"Facebook does crack down on issues like anti-Semitism and has been praised for it but when they see images of women being raped they don't consider that to be a form of hate speech.

"A lot of women are saying it's preventing them from using Facebook."

The social network has previously been taken to task for removing pictures of women breastfeeding infants and displaying their chests after mastectomy operations, she added.

"I don't think you can use the smokescreen of free speech when you take down other images which are often of women's bodies," said Ms Bates.

She also said that the groups and Facebook were "in communication" and both were hoping for a resolution as soon as possible.

More on this story

  • Sexism campaign: Facebook learns a lesson