Does Facebook Hate All Women—or just Feminists?

Via Trista Hendren
on Nov 10, 2012
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This photo was banned from Facebook (used with permission from Joanne Jackson).

News: German Justice Minister criticizes Facebook’s double standards: German users are struggling to understand why Facebook is quick to ban nudity, but often fails to ban posts that constitute the criminal offense of incitement to hatred. (dw.com)

Update: a response from Facebook’s policy department. ~ ed.

I have been hearing rumors about Facebook’s policies towards feminist posts for quite a while now.

I will begin by saying that I have been a huge Facebook fan; I met my husband through mutual friends on Facebook, as well as partners for various women-oriented projects over the last few years. But something seems to have shifted lately—nearly everyone I spoke to regarding this article shared the same conflicted sentiment: we have enjoyed Facebook for the connections it has brought us but feel we have been unfairly censored or punished.

Sonya Renee Taylor, the page owner of The Body is Not an Apology, started a petition on Change.org last month:

“The Body Is Not An Apology, an international movement focused on radical self-love and body empowerment, account was SUSPENDED from Facebook after posting a photo of an empowered female body and tribal women in Senegal with their breasts visible. We believe this sort of cultural and gender discrimination is absolutely asking women to apologize for their bodies and is unacceptable. We want a stop to the sexist hypocrisy of suspending accounts and deleting non-sexual images posted by women! The Body Is Not An Apology has over 12,500 friends in over 25 countries who share images, articles and affirmations focused on celebrating our bodies and truly embracing self-love. As a community we are outraged by the sexism and hypocrisy of Facebook’s policies!”

What is troubling is that Facebook has allowed certain posts, which are derogatory towards women, to remain on its pages, while penalizing feminists for speaking out against them. Facebook has allowed hyper-sexualized images of women to remain, as well as comments, posts and pages that support rape culture; Soraya Chemaly wrote an excellent article several months ago about Facebook’s misogyny problem.

Rabid Feminist pointed out this particularly “fun” page on Wednesday, even after hundreds of women reported the page and many of the pictures, is still up and running. However, as The Body is Not an Apology’s petition reminds us, Facebook has censored images of:

1. Women who have beat breast cancer, including Joanne Jackson pictured above.

2. Women with children born with birth defects.

3. Women who breastfeed.

Dana Bakdounis

In researching this article, it appears there are many feminist pages, from all over the world, who feel they have been silenced by Facebook.

The uprising of women in the Arab world, a site with more than 60,000 fans from around the world, released a press release November seventh. It seems their five administrators were all reprimanded by Facebook to some degree, varying from a warning, to a 30 day block. All five women were warned they could permanently lose their accounts. They give the following explanation:

“Dana Bakdounes is one the hundreds of women and men who participated in the Uprising of Women in the Arab World campaign, holding a sign expressing the reason why they support this uprising. Dana’s slogan stated: “I am with the uprising of women in the Arab world because for 20 years I wasn’t allowed to feel the wind in my hair and on my body,” and her picture showed an unveiled woman carrying her passport with her picture when she was veiled.

Dana’s picture was initially posted on October 21, among many other photos and statements of women and men of various religious beliefs and practices (some women were veiled, some unveiled, some in niqab…), all demanding women’s rights and equally enjoying the freedom of speech, in a secular space that promotes tolerance and embraces the differences. But on October 25, Facebook chose to censor Dana’s image and to suspend for 24 hours the account of the admin who posted it. This incident provoked an outrage among the defenders of freedom of speech who started sharing Dana’s picture all over Facebook, Twitter and other media channels.” 

It is difficult to understand what Facebook’s policies are exactly; it seems that the blocking has something to do with Facebook users reporting something they find offensive. While this can be helpful in some ways, the rules don’t seem to apply the same way towards all pages—and there does not seem to be much in the way of examining whether something actually is offensive, once it is reported as such.

Icelandic feminist, Hildur Lilliendahl, was recently  temporarily blocked from posting content on Facebook, for the fourth time. The blocking began when she started collecting abusive public comments from men about women and/or feminists from around the web. Hildur published these comments on Facebook, in an album called “Men who hate women.

Photo: Páll Hilmarsson (used with permission of Hildur Lilliendahl)

The material Facebook termed “abusive” were screenshots of hateful, misogynist comments. Hildur was  reported for re-posting other people’s comments, most recently resulting in a 30-day block. Facebook warned her that she must “stop violating the community standards of Facebook.” Keep in mind, this was after she re-posted a public status from a man with these kind words about her:

If I ‘accidentally’ ran over Hildur, she is probably the only person on earth that I would back up over and leave the car on top of her with the hand brake on!!!) Put this in your ‘men who hate Hildur’ folder, Hildur Lilliendahl.”

The resulting petition on Change.org states; “I want to draw attention to the drawbacks of this platform, the Facebook and how easy it’s “community standards” make it to silence our voices.”

When I confirmed the story with Hildur yesterday, she gave this statement:

“I could have gone around the rules, I could have published the screenshots elsewhere and linked to them on Facebook, but I refuse to be silenced. I will not abide to rules that offend me. Neither will I allow corporate mass media to control my behavior.”

What seems unfair about Facebook’s blocking policies is that it is almost impossible to get in touch with a live person or even defend yourself. Thus, other than comparing stories, it is hard to know what Facebook’s actual policies are and how to best deal with them.

According to Facebook’s community standards page, there are nine types of content that may be deemed offensive and removed: Violence and Threats, Self-Harm, Bullying and Harassment, Hate Speech, Graphic Violence, Nudity and Pornography, Identity and Privacy, Intellectual Property and Phishing and Spam. If that is the case, why are sites such as It’s NOT rape, simply free sex allowed to exist, while women who are fighting back against violence and threats are punished?

Rabid Feminist, a popular feminist page with nearly 12,000 fans, shared a similar story a few weeks ago:

“I was locked out of my account for three days because someone complained that I called him a misogynist and a mansplainer (he was). They also removed an anti-rape poster, which I can only find an outline of a nipple beneath a full blouse. I was unable to get anything from Facebook explaining their actions”

In response, Rabid Feminist has set up a blog separate from their Facebook page, so that they can keep in touch with their fans.

Painting by Elisabeth Slettnes (Image used with permission from the artist)

A girl’s guide to taking over the world has experienced similar censorship on their page, which has more than 150,000 fans. One admin was blocked for sharing this image from my page, The Girl God, because the artwork shows a nipple. In response, A girl’s guide has created a ‘banned by facebook’ section in a gallery on their website, which is worth looking at. Wherein they state:

“Facebook is happy to have images of breasts for the purpose of male entertainment but breastfeeding is obscene and must be removed. The oyster image was deemed so offensive that the admin responsible was banned for seven days for posting it!”

The oyster image, is literally, a picture of an oyster.

Admins from A girl’s guide have been banned for every image posted there—and they still have more to add. One admin is currently on a 30 day ban because of an image that is a parody of a model image, copied by the Jackass Boys.

I have been blocked by Facebook, numerous times, to various degrees. Thankfully, my page has not been shut down yet but I have already formulated a Plan B. I am seeing stories all over Facebook about being blocked for three days or more. I am currently blocked for 60 days from making comments on other pages, although I was not given a specific reason why.

I am also blocked from making friend requests for 30 days.

I have many liberal-minded friends who have been blocked from making friend requests; it begs the question, What is wrong with adding friends? In a world that is becoming increasingly global, where we are coming together more and more on ideas alone, is adding friends so dangerous?

On a sliding scale, I have to say that rape culture scares the shit out of me, whereas adding a few friends seems way down at the bottom of the danger list.

If you are not angry yet, here are a few more pictures to fuel the fire from It’s NOT rape, simply free sex. As of publication, all but three of these pictures were still up, while feminists from around the world worried about the fate of their pages.



I can attest that owning a page takes a great deal of effort. Aside from finding good posts throughout the day, you also must respond to people on your page and delete comments that may be offensive to others to keep it a safe space.

Furthermore, it has been suggested that the Facebook algorism takes people off your feeds if they do not  regularly “like” your posts. Thus, losing control over your page for a few days or up to a month effectively cancels out your previous hard work.

We must create better networks of feminist pages so that we better can support each other; Facebook cannot shut us all down. If one sister page is down, the rest of us must spread the word about the injustice and keep the page going. Words of Women from the Egyptian Revolution was a great example of this after The uprising of women in the Arab world experienced problems; they staged a worldwide online protest on their page.

It is also important to note that there are other social media platforms available and that Facebook may not be the best way to share our message now that they have begun charging to promote posts. One such page, World Wide We, sounds promising:

“A new world is possible! Recent global events have given us a taste of the untapped potential of people coming together in new and exciting ways using social media. The vision of World Wide We (WWWe) is to help further realise that potential by moving beyond Facebook with a website that is designed specifically for people across the world to connect, share and act for positive change, easy to use with fresh, new tools, owned by the people, for the people (i.e. a Community Interest Company… that means no billionaire owners!)”

ZSocial is another: “ZSocial is the social network for  individuals and groups striving to win a better world.

My Digital Notebook is yet another site that is just coming together now—their slogan is, “The New Social Network For Self Expression.”

Obviously, there are many social media platforms available to us; it is important for us, as women, to stay connected, however that may be.

As Adrienne Rich said,

“The connections between and among women are the most feared, the most problematic, and the most potentially transforming force on the planet.“

The censorship of women on Facebook must stop; it is only when we speak up that we will truly know how widespread this problem is and change it. Please share your stories in the comments section below—we need a platform to discuss and change Facebook’s policies as they affect women. Then, we can organize and fight for change.

“Today more than ever we want to say to the world that our voices will not be silenced, not by Facebook, nor by patriarchy, dictatorships, military rule and/or religious extremism. They may be temporarily denied, overlooked, censored or whitewashed, but only to be uttered once again. We will continue to write on the dividing walls of fear, submission and defamation, if not tear them down.”

~ The Uprising of Women in the Arab World

 

~

Ed: Bryonie Wise

Like elephant enlightened society on Facebook.


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About Trista Hendren

Trista Hendren is the author of The Girl God. The second book in this series, Mother Earth, will be published in December. You can read more about her project with Elisabeth Slettnes at www.thegirlgod.com.

Comments

133 Responses to “Does Facebook Hate All Women—or just Feminists?”

  1. Trista says:

    I would like to read that article but the link does not work.

  2. Neil in Chicago says:

    Calling Andrea Dworkin, Catherine MacKinnon, and Valerie Solanas “average” feminist “leaders” is either completely dishonest or deeply delusional.

  3. Neil in Chicago says:

    “Never attribute to malice what is adequately explained by stupidity.” or cowardice
    “Paranoia is the delusion that your enemies are organized.”

    This is in no way to excuse or condone the administrative behavior, but it seems to me likeliest that it’s from cowardly ineptitude, followed by ass-covering.
    I don’t know if that’s any help in trying to deal with it, though.

  4. Where does a picture of a vagina appear in the article? Where does discussion of a picture of a vagina appear in the article?

    Oh, right, it doesn't. If you're going to troll, at least read the damn essay.

  5. Anna says:

    The absolute worst thing we could do is boycott Facebook. Facebook is by far one of the fastest ways to spread a message. How did I find this article? Facebook. If you boycott Facebook, our messages and beliefs will not be heard by the masses, instead you will be letting the bastards with their rape joke pages win. Would you rather an impressionable teenage girl on Facebook stumble across a rape joke page, or a positive body image page? I know it's a ridiculous question, but boycott Facebook and these pages won't be there for the majority of people to see. Additionally, Wwhy would Facebook as a company care if a few feminists left? No skin off their nose. We have to fight this in THEIR space.

    I personally think, as a woman who works for a tech company, one of the biggest problems is that there are hardly any women working in the tech sector. Why has all of the content mentioned in the article been moderated? Because the moderators, the Facebook policy makers and the board of directors at Facebook are, overwhelmingly white, middle aged men.

    Until more women and girls begin to work in the tech sector, the mainstream media of the next generation, will unfortunately be run by men and the rape jokes will only become more and more acceptable.

  6. Anna says:

    just to substantiate this further, this is a magazine we get delivered to our office, most weeks it has a "sexy" woman on the front holding a gadget. every time it arrives i complain that it's sexist, but month after month it falls through the door. http://www.stuff.tv/themag

  7. This happens to pages without feminist content, as well. I have a friend who runs a fairly popular, video-game related page, and she has been blocked multiple times due to a few individuals spamming Facebook with false reports of copied or otherwise inappropriate content. It seems that Facebook simply does not review the claims of offensive content or of copyright infringement, and acts on the amount of complaints received rather than the actual merit of each complaint.

    I imagine this system disproportionately affects feminist pages – particularly ones which repost others' Facebook and web comments – because of the sheer number of anti-feminists and misogynists reporting each post. It seems that a good way to censor people on Facebook is to methodically report every post they make, and every page whose content you don't agree with, over and over again until Facebook relents and "disciplines" the page owner. I see this happening with political pages I follow, where Facebook users of the opposite political persuasion sometimes mount concerted reporting attacks in an effort to get the page removed or the page owner blocked.

    I hope Facebook reviews the way it responds to content complaints and subsequently censors pages and users, and becomes more thoughtful in their responses. Considering the number of feminist and other liberal-leaning users and the way in which Facebook has become a place for political discussion and movements, I think it would be a real shame for them if they got a reputation for censoring liberal political speech. Liberal users and pages not being able to add friends? Anti-rape campaigns censored? Images censored for no reason other than religious and/or political intolerance? Yeah, that story's going to blow up on Gawker and CNET post haste.

    Don't bite the hand that feeds you, Facebook.

  8. Funny, I've been a feminist for years and I've never heard of any of 'em. But I guess you pay more attention to feminist "leaders" than I do.

  9. […] my sociological imagination and feminist radar first went on high alert, many other yoga practitioners have asked critical questions about the […]

  10. Athena says:

    And let's not forget the racism angle too (intersectionality and whatnot). My college created a memes page, and some troll posted three pictures, one graphic photo of an aborted fetus and two that were explicitly racist and used the n-word. I reported them all TWICE, and I got an email from Facebook saying, "Nope! No hatred here!"

  11. Gladys Rodríguez says:

    Hi. I would really like to read the article you suggest. If you had the chance to translate it to spanish (so I could link it on my fb wall), it would be great, if not english is ok.

  12. asdffg1 says:

    You guys are forgetting one thing : Facebook isn't a right, it's a free service. They can do whatever they want because they own the website. If they don't want nude post-masmectomy pictures, they're in their rights, even if it's "not fair". Because they're free and so popular, people start to mix up two concepts: free as in monetary and free as in liberty… You don't have all liberties on a private property.

    Yet, I'm still debating if this really is sexism… A guy could post a picture of his testicles, he would get banned too…

  13. Trista says:

    I'm not sure that posting pictures of a women's mastectomy scar or women breastfeeding are the same thing as a man posting his balls.

    And, the male centric content that has been permitting certainly does not compare, including:

    "It's Not Rape, It's free sex",

    "Kicking a slut in the vagina and losing your foot inside",

    "[Humor] Roses are red, violets are blue… I've got a knife, , get in the van

    "I just want to get drunk and punch the slut in the face"

    "I'd Punch You if You Were a Woman"

    "Shut the F**k Up and Make Me a Sandwich"

    Furthermore, while Facebook may be a "free" service, it is hardly a non-profit. Facebook earns heaps of money based on mass participation. While they can do whatever they want, it may cost them their female customers.

  14. Trista says:

    I'd like to explore this further Athena. Please contact me.

  15. Trista says:

    Lydia, are you referring to Amanda Todd? I am working on the second follow-up article and would like to highlight that aspect of the story and share your comment. This morning I found the video, http://youtu.be/KRxfTyNa24A, including these last words, “Everyday I think why am I still here?” ~Amanda Todd

  16. Trista says:

    Love your article Shreya – I have included many of the pages you referenced on the new page: http://www.facebook.com/alan.millar.3386#!/StopRa….

  17. Trista says:

    Thank you for letting me know. If you have anything further to add, please email me. I am working on a follow up article. Thank you!

  18. Trista says:

    I am not sure if he will do a literal translation. I tried putting it in google translate and it was horrible. We are apart at the moment, so I hope to speak to him on Skype this evening so he can translate it for me.

  19. mike in oz says:

    Here's an idea, if you don't like Facebook….don't use Facebook. Facebook is clearly automated & has rules.
    Create your own network via email where there is no censorship.

  20. Trista says:

    Karen, I would like to connect with you!

  21. Trista says:

    Well said – I think I would like to quote this in my follow up article!

  22. Trista says:

    I would be interested to know if you received a response Tet. Thank you!

  23. Trista says:

    🙂 Cheers back!

  24. Trista says:

    I have had that experience as well Laura. Would like to explore it more but it has not been brought up much.

  25. Sarah says:

    Love this article! Thank you Trista! I deactivated my FB account because of their unethical privacy policies and this information in your article has validated my decision. I'm a Twitter girl now. Thank you EJ for helping to get information on these troubling practices out in the open.

  26. @LaceyReah says:

    Facebook deleted my account without warning. Yes, I wrote a lesbian erotica vampire novella. However, my account wasn't deleted until I wrote and posted a blog about same sex marriage being a civil right. I had posted all kinds of questionable material and I have known friends who have as well. The misogynistic crap that is posted on facebook left and right is ridiculous. Also, I saw that a friend of mine had liked a page that is called "porn" and that posts nudity all the time, but I digress.

    Yet, after I posted a blog defending same sex marriage during a time when prop 8 was going to an appeal process in CA, I am suddenly shut down without any warning. I have complained and my friends complained but facebook has not replied. My guess is that proponents of prop 8 banned together to get rid of me after reading my blog.

    I decided not to go back to facebook for many reasons:
    1) They do not care for the privacy or rights of any of their members. They have made my private profile public without warning due to their updates and they took away the ability for me to keep the comments I put on other people's statuses private. They seem to be hell bent on taking your privacy for granted. There is much more to the privacy thing that I will not go into but we do not have to put up with the invasion.
    2) People don't communicate the way they used to because of facebook. Parents don't spend time with their kids because they are addicted to their facebook page. I was once at a party and people started showing us things that were on their facebook page. Next thing I know, the whole room was silent and everyone was in their own world, forgetting that a social gathering was going on around them. People who have facebook have no idea what they look like to those of us who stopped using it.
    3) It was a huge time waster and when I think of the hours I spent on facebook, it is depressing to realize those were days of my life I can never get back.
    4) It is a huge corporate organization that will use its clout to get what it wants and it has never considered the complaints of its members. Yet people stay on facebook due to its addictive qualities.
    5) It bombards me with advertising. When I left facebook, I could see the sky, trees and mountains again. I could hear the birds chirping. It felt good to leave the matrix. Now I can focus on what I want to focus on.
    6) I was getting stressed out by the fact that anything I said could be taken the wrong way and often was. Most things are not to be said in a public wall directly, to the people who want to hear it.
    7) According to an elephent journal article I read, a corporate yoga instructor for facebook was fired for asking a student to turn off her cell phone and not take a call in the middle of a yoga class. Just another example of how facebook has no clue.
    8) I had been annoyed by so many of facebooks policies and the way they handled their business but I stayed a member due to peer pressure. I will never do something that I do not agree with again. I would rather give my time to elephant journal or other websites who use practices that harmonize with my sense of the greater good.
    9) it didn't help my businesses. Everything they say about facebook helping your business is bull. My numbers didn't go up after spending mind numbing time on facebook. Life coaches who want to make money off of training you how to use social media to your advantage say that so they can take your money and business. You get more clients and buyers by contacting people and being good at what you do, not for getting likes on facebook.

    There are more reasons but i just can't think of them at the moment.

  27. @LaceyReah says:

    I must agree with this. The right wing hard core conservatives are extremely tight knit and very powerful.

  28. @LaceyReah says:

    I left facebook months ago because I didn't believe in its policies and life is so good without it. See my comment below. Give your time and support to media groups that harmonize with your ethics and vision. People have been dropping facebook by droves this past year. Cut the shackles. There is really no point sticking to any business that treats its members this way.

  29. Trista says:

    This should be a full article – and you should publish it. Well said.

  30. sue says:

    I'm embarking on a "See a nipple, report a nipple" on facebook, so whether it's Lahiri Mahasaya or some nameless beefcakes, it should get reported as pornography

  31. Bill Angell says:

    Continuous requests for healthy policy change is a must; minor adjustments will slowly improve policies and protect our children from abusive policies of society.

  32. […] the third article in a series discussing concerns that Facebook is anti-feminist. Please refer to the original article and the response from Facebook Policy Management. ~ […]

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  44. Sue Travis says:

    I've been blocked replying to a friend who commented on the possible corporate sexism at fb after posting news about the ban on breast feeding photos… Gobsmacked.

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