Thursday, May 30, 2013

A Call to Action: Facebook and Gender-Based Hate Speech

As I will be leaving college and entering the dreaded work force I have been contemplating what I choose to share via social networking sites.  I often find myself on Facebook and will find college friends posting drunken pictures.  First I think, wow it looks like they had a fun night.  Second thought, maybe that picture shouldn’t have been shared.  As a person who I think spends too much time on the Internet and in general, Facebook, I find myself thinking about the politics of disclosure.  As social networking is replacing face-to-face conversations I’m beginning to think we are reinventing social interactions and all use social networks for different reasons.  Some want to create Facebook pages for their pets, use Facebook to find a partner, share every day drama, post pictures of their babies, and/or keep in touch with friends and family members.  Why do we share what we share?  Countless times, I have found myself typing a status and end up deleting it because I don’t know what a family member would think.  With hashtags appearing on Facebook and memes are popping up everywhere via the inter-web we are weaving in and out of images, quotes, humor, sarcasm, admiration, news, social activism, and even hate speech.  Scrolling though the Facebook feed is easily done with a click of a button, but what makes us stop in our tracks? 

I’ve chosen to follow feminist media who are on Facebook and that is where I get some of my daily news.  I couldn’t help but stop in my tracks when I was scrolling down my feed and saw a photo that was not removed, but it was blatant hate-speech (Referring to the picture seen here).  If something offensive is posted on Facebook it can be reported, but it may not necessarily be deleted due to their terms and conditions.  On May 21st Women, Action & the Media (WAM), the Everyday Sexism Project and author/activist Soraya Chemaly launched a campaign, call to action on Facebook to take effective action to stop gender based hate speech on the website.  The campaign has over 100 women’s movement and social justice organizations.  Over 60,000 tweets and 5,000 emails have been sent.        

Facebook has responded to the open letter with, “a important commitment to refine its approach to hate speech.”  In a statement, “Facebook addressed our concerns and committed to evaluating and updating its polices, guidelines and practices relating to speech, improving training for its content moderators and increasing accountability for creators of misogynist content.”  It sounds like kudos may be given to Facebook for adjusting their policies.  Yet, it has taken this long for Facebook to refine hate-speech?  They are adjusting policies because WAM, and the Everyday Sexism Project would shame them until it changed.  As social networking websites are changing our social interactions and impact our lives, hate-speech and acceptance of violence against women should not be apart of our exchange of interactions.  As the campaign continues, many companies and organizations have pulled ads from Facebook to show they do not agree or condone hate speech, abuse, and violence against girls and women.  Some companies like Dove, American Express, and Zipcar have not pulled their ads that are displayed alongside hateful, violent, and abusive content.  If you would like to support this campaign, tell the companies what you think via Facebook or Twitter.  Use the hashtag #FBrape on Twitter.         

By Gretchen D. Hawker

Here is the Open Letter to Facebook:

Here is a list of companies that pulled ads:

Break the Silence, Stop the Violence

I would like to take a moment to pause.  Take a moment to breathe.  As we have entered the month of May, I have been reflecting on the previous month, April.  April is Sexual Assault Awareness Month.  The WRC and PWCL sponsored Take Back the Night/Bike Back the Night.  It was our final event for the month.  At the event, we shared a safe space in Parkway North in Smith Memorial Student Union.  We came together in solidarity to march and speak out against sexual violence and military sexual trauma.  As we chanted and marched down the streets of downtown Portland having our voice heard, our pictures taken, and people joining us, this overwhelming feeling of solidarity came over me, with a strong after thought—why and how long would we need to hold events like these?      

Take Back the Night is an annual march and event, as a way to take a stand against sexual violence and speak out against such crimes.  The first TBTN event occurred in 1975 in Philadelphia.  Community members came together after Susan Alexander Speeth, a young microbiologist was murdered by a stranger only a block away from her home.  She was walking home alone.  38 years later, people of all walks of life are still focusing their attention, effort, and lives to eliminate sexual violence.  

Sometimes we take one step forward and two steps back.  Unfortunately, quite a few sexual assault cases have made national news showing empathy for the perpetrators.  This is rape culture.  Take the Steubenville verdict; the perpetrators never apologized for raping a girl but only for getting caught.  Rape culture is victim-blaming, slut shaming, and condoning the idea that sexual assault is a “women’s issue.”            

Another large step forward, The Violence Against Women Act that recently passed again, now includes Native Americans, and LGBT survivors.  VAWA also keeps judges from being able to rule in rape cases that the victim was allegedly “asking for it.”  Rape culture seeps into news broadcastings, TV sitcoms, politics, college campuses, workspaces, etc. Needing a law to prevent legal victim blaming is rape culture.  We need to keep a steady progression against rape culture, against sexual assault, against rape.  Is it a choice of picking battles or is it a matter of always interrupting oppression? 

By: Gretchen D. Hawker