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Is Facebook Allowing Groups That Promote Violence Against Women?

Submitted by on October 13, 2011 – 10:09 amOne Comment
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A British newspaper has criticized Facebook for not removing groups that appear to make fun of rape, accusing the social network of having a double standard when regulating content.

Facebook has become experienced at dealing with issues of free speech. As the most popular social network in the world and a private company, as well, it has had to walk a fine line between its role in helping people connect and monitoring users’ content. It’s own “Statement of Rights and Responsibilities” bans content that is “hateful, threatening, or pornographic; incites violence; or contains nudity or graphic or gratuitous violence.”

Facebook has resisted calls from across the political spectrum to remove content. Past controversies include a “Draw the Prophet Muhammed” group that violated a major tenent of Islam, and the existence of several groups that deny the Holocaust. Generally, the company has allowed controversial content to stay on the site as long as it didn’t advocate violence against a specific group of people; this policy has been supported Free Speech scholars.

But Cath Elliot at the UK’s The Guardian recently published an editorial, inspired by reader suggestions, calling attention to petitions to remove a group from Facebook called  ”You know she’s playing hard to get when your [sic] chasing her down an alley.” The group has over 200,000 likes.

Many similar groups also still exist on the Web site including “You know she’s playing hard to get when she’s trying to break out of your van” (52,000 likes); “Wiping Makeup Off Your Shoe After A Long Day Of Kicking Sluts In The Face” (89,000 likes); “Riding your Girlfriend softly, Cause you don’t want to wake her up” (87,000 likes), and many more.

Closer examination shows that the discussion in many of these groups is not dedicated to violence against women. The Recent Activity feed often shows a mix of random Internet memes and racist, sexist, and otherwise controversial humor; it resembles a trolling message board more than a hate group.

Various Web sites have made clear that even if the groups are intended as jokes, they endanger women by diminishing the seriousness of rape.

Facebook defended the groups, making the public outcry worse by comparing they offensive content to cracking dirty jokes at a bar. “It is very important to point out that what one person finds offensive another can find entertaining”, said the site in a statement, “just as telling a rude joke won’t get you thrown out of your local pub, it won’t get you thrown off Facebook.”

The Guardian‘s Elliot shot back, accusing Facebook of siding with violent criminals:

By refusing to take these pages down, and by resorting to such a ridiculous and quite frankly offensive “rude joke” analogy to justify their decision, Facebook executives have made absolutely clear where they stand on the issue of gender hate crime. It’s fine to post hateful or threatening content on their site, just as it’s fine to post content that incites violence. Well, as long as it’s primarily aimed at women, that is.

What do you think? Is Facebook allowing the promotion of violence, or is it defending free speech?

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