The day the Everyday Sexism Project won - and Facebook changed its image

The social network had buried its head in the sand on gender violence and '#FBrape' until my campaign

Share
Related Topics

Last week, the Everyday Sexism Project, “Women, Action and the Media”, along with writer and activist Soraya Chemaly, launched an international campaign against Facebook content that they felt incited rape and domestic violence.

For women’s rights groups, and many female users of the social network, this was nothing new. For some years now campaign groups have lobbied Facebook to address the plethora of violently misogynistic images and comments that appear. What was new this time was Facebook’s response.

Last Tuesday night, the web giant released a rare public statement acknowledging our campaign and confirming that it would act on each of the commitments we had called for in our open letter. They have agreed not only to update their guidelines and policy on hate speech with input from women’s organisations, but also to improve training for its moderators.

This means that the kind of content we highlighted – images of women beaten, bloodied and bruised with captions such as “Next time, don’t get pregnant”, or groups like “fly kicking sluts in the uterus” – will no longer be shared and “liked” on the site.

We aren’t talking about sexist jokes, or about censoring free speech – Facebook already censors a great deal of content, from breast-feeding pictures to images of women post-mastectomy. Instead, we are talking about a move away from tolerance of violent portrayals of misogyny – and the corresponding suggestion that boasting and laughing about rape and sexual assault is acceptable.

We are seeing a natural, cultural progression away from the acceptability of gender prejudice, in the same way that public pressure and challenging social norms led to other forms of hate speech, becoming unacceptable. 

Facebook’s public response is a milestone. The fact that it realised it was necessary to respond to this campaign marks a real shift. Such incidents as the horrific Delhi gang rape, and the Steubenville teen-rape case in Ohio, made headlines around the world and we are reaching a global tipping point in our attitude. In a world in which one  in three women will at some point be raped or beaten, it should be no more acceptable to make “jokes” about it than it is to use racial slurs.

The sheer numbers of people who joined our campaign in just one week, men and women, testifies to the strength of public feeling. More than 60,000 tweets and 5,000 e-mails were sent using the #FBrape hashtag, while advertisers were flooded with demands to suspend their accounts with Facebook.

One protester recreated an image that Facebook had refused to remove, a graphic portrait of a little girl with two black eyes, but using a composite of profile pictures of Dove’s Twitter followers. He released it with the words: “Dove, these are your customers.” Others filled Dove’s Facebook page with requests for it to follow through on commitment to empower women by removing Facebook ads.

Numerous small businesses voluntarily joined the movement, withdrawing their adverts from Facebook without being targeted by the campaign. One company, Down Easy Brewing, wrote: “Our measly few dollars a month will not make a dent in the Facebook bottomline, but our conscious as a corporation and as human beings will rest a little easier ... Stand up to the bullies.”

And Facebook’s landmark reaction is also a testament to the attention that large companies and public bodies will have to pay to this social shift, because this wave of protest is not going away. It is simply no longer adequate to excuse sexism and misogyny under the guise of banter.

It is also no longer possible for a platform as large and influential as Facebook to distance itself from the content uploaded by its users.

This all has real implications, for forms of gender hate elsewhere. For too long, women who object to mainstream and accepted misogyny have been silenced with the mocking argument that they are uptight, overreacting, or need to learn to take a joke. It is an effective form of silencing – by branding derogatory and hateful material “banter”’ or “distasteful humour” because you immediately isolate and alienate the objector as a bitter prude.

But, like any other form of bullying, this line immediately falls flat when challenged. And so many women are now combining their voices to achieve victory in cases like this one that they can no longer be silenced.

Companies can no longer hope to stick their heads in the sand, as Facebook had done, and hope that the commotion will blow over.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Finance Assistant / Credit Controller

£16000 - £18000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: They are an award-winning digit...

Ashdown Group: Senior VMware Platform Engineer - VMware / SAN / Tier3 DC

£45000 - £55000 per annum + benefits: Ashdown Group: Senior VMware Platform En...

Recruitment Genius: Purchasing Assistant

£10000 - £16000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A distributor of specialist ele...

Recruitment Genius: Sales Ledger Assistant

£17000 - £19000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A distributor of specialist ele...

Day In a Page

Read Next
Labour and the Liberal Democrats would both end winter fuel allowances for pensioners with enough income to pay the 40p tax rate  

Politicians court the grey vote because pensioners, unlike the young, vote

Andrew Grice
US President Barack Obama and Chinese President Xi Jinping have a drink after agreeing a deal on carbon emissions  

Beijing must face down the perils of being big and powerful – or boom may turn to bust

Peter Popham
Homeless Veterans campaign: Donations hit record-breaking £1m target after £300,000 gift from Lloyds Bank

Homeless Veterans campaign

Donations hit record-breaking £1m target after huge gift from Lloyds Bank
Flight MH370 a year on: Lost without a trace – but the search goes on

Lost without a trace

But, a year on, the search continues for Flight MH370
Germany's spymasters left red-faced after thieves break into brand new secret service HQ and steal taps

Germany's spy HQ springs a leak

Thieves break into new €1.5bn complex... to steal taps
International Women's Day 2015: Celebrating the whirlwind wit of Simone de Beauvoir

Whirlwind wit of Simone de Beauvoir

Simone de Beauvoir's seminal feminist polemic, 'The Second Sex', has been published in short-form for International Women's Day
Mark Zuckerberg’s hiring policy might suit him – but it wouldn’t work for me

Mark Zuckerberg’s hiring policy might suit him – but it wouldn’t work for me

Why would I want to employ someone I’d be happy to have as my boss, asks Simon Kelner
Confessions of a planespotter: With three Britons under arrest in the UAE, the perils have never been more apparent

Confessions of a planespotter

With three Britons under arrest in the UAE, the perils have never been more apparent. Sam Masters explains the appeal
Russia's gulag museum 'makes no mention' of Stalin's atrocities

Russia's gulag museum

Ministry of Culture-run site 'makes no mention' of Stalin's atrocities
The big fresh food con: Alarming truth behind the chocolate muffin that won't decay

The big fresh food con

Joanna Blythman reveals the alarming truth behind the chocolate muffin that won't decay
Virginia Ironside was my landlady: What is it like to live with an agony aunt on call 24/7?

Virginia Ironside was my landlady

Tim Willis reveals what it's like to live with an agony aunt on call 24/7
Paris Fashion Week 2015: The wit and wisdom of Manish Arora's exercise in high camp

Paris Fashion Week 2015

The wit and wisdom of Manish Arora's exercise in high camp
8 best workout DVDs

8 best workout DVDs

If your 'New Year new you' regime hasn’t lasted beyond February, why not try working out from home?
Paul Scholes column: I don't believe Jonny Evans was spitting at Papiss Cissé. It was a reflex. But what the Newcastle striker did next was horrible

Paul Scholes column

I don't believe Evans was spitting at Cissé. It was a reflex. But what the Newcastle striker did next was horrible
Miguel Layun interview: From the Azteca to Vicarage Road with a million followers

From the Azteca to Vicarage Road with a million followers

Miguel Layun is a star in Mexico where he was criticised for leaving to join Watford. But he says he sees the bigger picture
Frank Warren column: Amir Khan ready to meet winner of Floyd Mayweather v Manny Pacquiao

Khan ready to meet winner of Mayweather v Pacquiao

The Bolton fighter is unlikely to take on Kell Brook with two superstar opponents on the horizon, says Frank Warren
War with Isis: Iraq's government fights to win back Tikrit from militants - but then what?

Baghdad fights to win back Tikrit from Isis – but then what?

Patrick Cockburn reports from Kirkuk on a conflict which sectarianism has made intractable