Women’s rights activists in the UK and the US have accused Facebook of promoting rape and “rape culture” after the social networking site refused to take down pages on which users made jokes and apparent confessions about sexual assault.
Petitions urging the site to remove pages such as “You know she’s playing hard to get when your [sic] chasing her down an alley” have been signed by more than 3,600 people in the UK and 175,000 people on the US Web site Change.org.
They say the material found on the pages is a clear violation of Facebook’s terms and conditions, which bar hateful or threatening content.
“This is hate speech,” said Jane Osmond, who has campaigned on behalf of the UK petition. “I find it very disturbing that Facebook don’t [sic] appear to see the connection between pages such as this and the prevailing rape culture we have in our society.”
Facebook has refused to take down the offending pages, saying they are intended to be “a place where people can openly discuss issues and express their views.”
“Direct statements of hate against particular communities violate our statement of rights and responsibilities and are removed when reported to us,” Facebook said. “However, groups that express an opinion on a state, institution, or set of beliefs — even if that opinion is outrageous or offensive to some — do not by themselves violate our policies.”
The refusal to act has incurred the wrath of campaigners on both sides of the Atlantic.
A statement from Facebook likening the content to a rude joke that “won’t get you thrown out of your local pub” did nothing to calm tensions.
In England and Wales, hate speech legislation has been balanced to avoid curbing freedom of speech. While much of the content on the Internet may be offensive, it is not illegal unless it stirs up hatred on the grounds of race, religion or sexual orientation.
Osmond, a contributor to Women’s Views on News, said she understood that the Internet was a place where people could post offensive material.
However, “maybe as a society we need to progress the dialogue about what is freedom of speech and what responsibilities do we have to certain groups of people. It almost has to reach a critical mass before there’s a change. So, for instance, you cannot make racist comments now. I want to see the same thing about rape,” she said.
Facebook said it is far from being the only host of so-called rape jokes, with similar content found elsewhere on the Internet and on the comedy circuit. Jimmy Carr and Russell Brand have included rape or sexual assault in their repertoire in recent years.
However, Jo Brand has spoken out against a new form of misogyny in comedy and Fiona Elvines from Rape Crisis South London said: “Of course, it’s your right to joke, but I would question why anyone would want to joke about something that is so hurtful to so many people.”
“If it’s a joke that’s supposed to be funny and instead of people laughing, people are being hurt, why would you continue saying it? What are you trying to prove? Or, perhaps more importantly, whose rights are we protecting?” she asked.
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