Social networks' chicken-egg impact on rape culture has been discussed in detail since before the landmark case in Steubenville (and, more recently, a quite similar case in Torrington, Connecticut). As of this morning, a Belfast teen's Facebook post about raping a woman has garnered 1,226 likes. (It was since reported and was taken down.)
The adults involved in cases like Torrington's often blame the cases on the hate-mongering Internet, because it's just... easier to do that, isn't it? A recent piece in the Atlantic on the issue asserts that retweets and likes only reflect rather than encourage the permissive, victim-blaming attitude that's been around long before Twitter or Facebook, and I'm inclined to agree.
On the other hand, you have to admire the tirelessness of the people who believe that expunging all of Facebook's gross violence and darkness would make a change. Yesterday, ABC News aired a segment on a 38-year-old Oregon mother of two named Tricia Hendren who co-founded Rapebook, a Facebook watchdog group that targets and attempts to shut down blatant misogyny and other forms of graphic trolling that goes against Facebook's terms and conditions. Says Hendren: "I have two young kids and I wasn't political at all and assumed it was a safe, happy place where you were there with your friends. And then I realized that it's really not."
Naturally, this being the Internet, Hendren and the other admins' personal information, including their home addresses, were leaked and the graphic threats came pouring in; eventually, Hendrin went off Facebook completely. As of 16 hours ago, Rapebook announced in a long post that that they were no longer an active group: "This page has achieved what it was set up to do. It has shown that Facebook's terms and conditions are null and void. We will leave the rest of the work for Facebook to do – or not."
It goes on:
When we widened our targeting of content that violates the terms and conditions, we pinpointed content that promotes hate speech towards minorities, such as races or women, or taking enjoyment in crimes like rape and murder. Facebook deemed the vast majority of these not offensive enough, stating that they are 'controversial humor'.
A Facebook spokesman elaborates, via Raw Story: "(Facebook) tries to have a very permissive attitude toward humor because different cultures have different views of what is or isn't humor... As you may expect in any diverse community of more than a billion people, we occasionally see people post distasteful content or make crude attempts at humor."
They add that its terms and conditions require a clear indication that a post is "in poor taste." (Jokes about sexually assaulting babies, for instance, remained on the site because it didn't threaten any specific baby.) But Rapebook's farewell posts points out that these guidelines are selective.
At the same time, feminist activism is targeted for quick deletion by Facebook. Facebook will leave a picture of a woman who lies, obviously physically hurt, at the bottom of stairs, captioned 'next time don't get pregnant'. At the same time Facebook will delete a picture, taken from a news item, of a woman who displayed her breasts at a political protest and temporarily ban all the administrators of a page that displayed it.
Image via Pan Xunbin/Shutterstock