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4Women - Opinions

Letters and opinions from concerned South African women on current affairs and issues affecting us all

Taking A Poke At Facebook

By Rachel Dobbins

Do you remember when you first began using Facebook? I do: It was 2005 and logging on to Bebo had started inducing epileptic fits. It was time to move on. Facebook was a joy to behold in the beginning; the user interface was a humble blue and white monochrome and there was no such thing as Facebook chat. It was a simpler time. Facebook is no longer as pleasurable experience, now it’s a social necessity. It is how you get invited to parties, how you talk to your friends across the various ponds, it is how you exist in a world of social media without giving out your much-guarded Twitter or personal blog information.

Usually when people are unhappy with a product they stop using it. That’s where Facebook has the edge. There is no other social media platform with the range and specs that Facebook boosts. Not having a Facebook is considered social suicide; at the very least it’s inconvenient.

Facebook has more female users than male users. That’s probably why you see so many pages sexualising men or alluding to male rape. Wait, hang on, that’s not right. Actually the majority of hate pages on Facebook are about the harassment or abuse of women.

Many people try to explain these away by claiming that Facebook is a large company with millions of users; policing such a vast community takes time and resources. It’d be naïve to expect Facebook to be an omnipotent presence. That’s a logical argument, however it is one that holds little truth; if you create a controversial political page or post a photo of your breasts you can guarantee it’d be deleted in less than 24 hours. Why then is Facebook a safe haven for hate pages that promote the ridicule, harassment and sexualisation of women?

The problem lies in what Facebook believes misogyny looks like. According to a statement released by Facebook, while pages such as “Does this smell like chloroform to you?” and “Kicking your Girlfriend in the Fanny because she won’t make you a Sandwich” may be offensive to some people “distasteful content on its own does not violate our policies.”

Jokes about rape are not just distasteful nor are they ‘controversial humour’; they are an attempt to trivialise the pain victims go through every day. Sadly the most disturbing thing about this story is not that these pages exist, it’s what it took to get them taken down, or at least get Facebook to acknowledge that they should be taken down.

Someone once told me that there are three things that make our world turn: sex, money and religion. It was a threat to Facebook’s finances that turned the company’s hand forcing them to drop their laissez-faire attitude to gender-based discrimination. A collective of women from groups such as Women, Action and the Media, the Everyday Sexism Project along with activist Soraya Chemaly combined their efforts to target Facebook where it hurts. “We thought that advertisers would be the most effective way of getting Facebook’s attention,” said Jaclyn Friedman, the executive director of Women, Action and the Media; and they were right.

After a petition and a twitter campaign garnered worldwide attention, massive corporations such as Nissan pulled their advertising from Facebook while other big companies like Dove and American Express came under intense pressure to do so. Facebook finally buckled under the pressure and issued a statement. However, it’s a bitter-sweet victory in light of how it came to pass. Money talks, Facebook listened to the money.

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