Without Comment or Apology, Facebook Quietly Removes Rape-Joke Pages

After more than three months of complaints from users, a grand total of over 200,000 petition signatures (186,000 of them on a single Change.org petition), a Twitter campaign, the withdrawal of several major advertisers and an outpouring of harsh criticism from a multitude of feminist activists and writers, Facebook has finally removed rape-humor pages from the site. Surfing Facebook, you will no longer find a page titled, “What’s 10 inches and gets girls to have sex with me? My knife.”

At least for today. Facebook’s capitulation appears to be grudging: The social media behemoth has given no indication that it will remove such pages if they reappear. Nor has its apologized for its three-month failure to act. Facebook has not even recanted its initial response to the campaign, which was to refuse to take any action against the pages, dismissively comparing them to “rude jokes” that “wouldn’t get you thrown out of a local pub.”

In response to Facebook’s apparent lack of willingness to take a firm stance against all content that endorses sexual violence, the partners behind the petition, such as Women’s Views on News, are demanding that the networking giant:

  1. Make a public statement that rape is never acceptable; that promoting sexual violence and violence against women is repugnant; that Facebook will remove content that advocates rape, sexual violence, and violence against women; and that the Terms of Service/Community Standards will be updated to specify this.
  2. Address in a public statement that the previous “pub joke” defense was poorly stated, explaining that alleging humor does not give a free pass to promote any hate content; that Facebook does not consider promoting violence against women or sexual assault to be a joke or funny; and that such content will be held to the same standard as any violence against any other group or individual.
  3. Ask for Facebook to be transparent about the content monitoring process; to state publicly if and how many pages are removed that promote sexual violence or violence against women; and to establish relationships with experts in sexual violence and violence against women who will help identify content that needs to be removed.
  4. Update the Terms of Service/Community Standards to specify that: “Content earnestly promoting violence against women or sexual violence violates Facebook’s terms of use and will accordingly be removed whenever reported.” In addition to the internal reporting system, provide a public contact email for users to register complaints about content that violates the terms of service/community standards, that will acknowledge receipt and respond with a decision on whether or not to remove.

It’s a relief to see the pages gone. But the victory means very little without a commitment from Facebook to take sexual violence seriously in the future.

And what’s all the more frustrating is that this partial victory should not have required such a massive effort. It should not have taken Facebook a second thought to realize that “jokes” about rape should be counted as speech that is hateful, threatening or incites violence–i.e., speech that is banned under Facebook’s Terms of Service. But because we live in a culture that accepts, condones and makes light of sexual violence, those conclusions are—for many people—not so obvious. And that’s why we have to keep asking the larger question: What does it mean to live in a society where it is this difficult to convince people that jokes about rape are simply not okay?

You can add your name to this Change.org petition to let Facebook know that we won’t let up until takes a firm policy against sexually violent hate speech:

[iframe http://dev-msmag.pantheonsite.io_change_widget6.asp 650 300]


Angi Becker Stevens is a fiction writer whose work has appeared in many print and online literary magazines, in addition to being anthologized in Best of the Web 2010 and nominated for a Pushcart Prize. Her non-fiction has appeared online RH Reality Check, AlterNet, Common Dreams, and Socialist Worker. As a member of The Organization for a Free Society, she participates in a variety of activist work for social justice.