In December, three male teenagers allegedly filmed themselves raping a 12-year-old girl while holding her at gunpoint. The video was then posted to Facebook, which led to prosecutors filing sexual assault charges on the three Chicago area teens. Sadly, this isn't the first story of this kind. In August of 2012, after a high school girl was sexually assaulted in Steubenville, Ohio, pictures and messages about the attack were posted to Twitter, Facebook and YouTube as the county reacted in horror.
The most recent episode has prompted a letter in response from Women, Action, & the Media, the Everyday Sexism Project, and writer Soray Chemaly in asking Facebook to take action. More than 40 other groups and agencies have signed on to the letter, which calls on Facebook to “recognize speech that trivializes or glorifies violence against girls and women as hate speech,” and “train moderators to recognize and remove gender-based hate speech,” among other items aimed at quieting an environment where content making light of or encouraging domestic violence or rape has found a standing.
Salon.com's Marry Elizabeth Williams has also addressed the confounding nature of Facebook's erratic moderation process. “It [Facebook] deletes photos of breast cancer survivors,” she wrote. “Only when directly and publicly challenged—or when the moderators simply don't catch it—do those basic 'unpornagraphic' images survive.” Meanwhile, moderators allow for more explicit and controversial material. “A quick perusal of a few existing groups will fend plenty of jokey references to sluts and hoes and what a fist can do set them straight.”
Accounts like these, according to Jane Martinson at The Guardian's Women's Blog, drove Laura Bates—founder of the Everyday Sexism Project—to angrily “[tweet] a screenshot of a Facebook page called 'Drop kicking sluts in the teeth' to the beauty company Dove” in late April. The screenshot showed a Dove Cosmetics ad floating on the group's page. Dove expressed “shock” to have seen their advertisement and said that they spoke to Facebook before the page was removed completely. Matt Warman of the Telegraph, however, wrote that soon after the response from Dove, the page received a “controversial humor” warning tag but was still active. In a Facebook search for the group, no signs of activity were found.
What separates the most recent responses from the one after Steubenville—and what gives the open letter its legs—is the focus on advertisers. “If advertising on Facebook means your ad could appear on hundreds of rape pages, advertisers should consider that very carefully indeed,” said Laura Bates in an interview with The Times.
To help notify companies whose ads may be placed on these pages, the letter calls on Facebook users to message the companies with examples of their placement. According to the campaign, there have been more than 9000 tweets and 900 emails sent since the letter was posted on May 21.