I’ve never been a fan of joining Facebook groups with titles such as I got so drunk, I did something extremely stupid and ridiculous and now you can see the evidence on Facebook etc. I think they are a waste of time, they make people look like idiots and no one really cares anyway. But then again, it is not my problem if people like to make fools of themselves; it doesn’t physically or psychologically harm me and I can quite easily ignore the existence of such groups.
You know what I can’t ignore and what does harm me? Sexism and the glorification of violence towards women. But there is a group on Facebook promoting just that, in fact there are several, and they are out there for everyone to see, to join, to “like”. This page in particular has sparked controversy: You know shes [sic] playing hard to get when your [sic] chasing her down an alleyway. The page currently has 176,884 people “liking” it, with the numbers growing steadily. While the title and picture may just be “suggestive” (even though they’re pretty obvious to me), it is the comments of the “fans” that make the page what it is: a place for rape jokes, rape apologia and the trivialization and extenuation of violence towards women. Some of the worst comments apparently have already been taken down but many are still bad enough, with more showing up every minute.
Attempts have been made to get Facebook to take down the page in question, as it quite obviously seems to violate Facebook’s terms of service. However, the reply from Facebook seems to suggest that they find it adequate to compare rape jokes and content promoting sexual violence to mere “pub jokes”. You can read the full statement here.
Apparently, reporting this page seems to lead to nothing. I myself have reported it for suggesting graphic violence, my reason being not to widen their scope of unacceptable content, but to make them aware of their own hypocrisy. It is well known that Facebook likes to take down other content, for example artistic representations of nudity and pictures of breast-feeding mothers. So nude women are obscene and offensive, but making jokes about violating them is not?
I am a little conflicted about this issue. Part of me, a big part, wants this page to be removed, because it is disgusting, because it is hypocritical of Facebook to not do so, and because Facebook’s nonchalant reply furthers the trivialization of rape culture. But another part of me wants this page to stay online, just as I accept pages of far right-wing and islamophobic organisations to exist. To me, this has to do with freedom of speech but only a little. I do not wish for these opinions and thoughts to exist, but unfortunately they do and I would much rather have them out in the open and visible. I want to be aware of my enemies; I want to know who they are and what they’re up to. And I want people to know that I am not fighting windmills.
In the case of the page mentioned above we are probably not dealing with actual rapists. For the most part, the people commenting seem to be adolescents, tardily pubescent boys and girls(!) with bad grammar and spelling skills, who think they’re being oh so provocative. I’m not sure if by removing this page and others like it we might actually push rape – the conversation about it, not the act – back into taboo territory, where joking about it won’t just be an infantile act of rebellion which can be exposed easily. But I’m also worried about more mature and deliberate rape apologists getting into these stupid kids’ heads. That’s why I am pleading for a Facebook culture of accountability.
We need to show that certain kinds of rhetoric and behavior are simply not welcome in a just and inclusive society. Critical comments of random strangers simply won’t do. In some cases they might even encourage the haters to defend their stupidity even more vehemently. What is needed are concrete real-life consequences. Most of us have hundreds of “friends” on Facebook, some real friends, girl- and boyfriends, parents, siblings and colleagues. We need to make sure we hold these people accountable for their actions online and offline, and vice versa. I would like to see a Facebook culture where a high school girl will say to her buddy: “I really didn’t like that comment you posted the other day and I can’t be friends with you until you apologize and remove the comment.” Or someone saying to her colleague: “I don’t think I will go out for a beer with you. I saw you join this group on Facebook which is degrading to women and I really don’t want to be associated with someone who thinks that way.”
I may sound naive with this proposition, and I am quite aware that in many situations like the ones I just mentioned the wrong people, the critical ones, may end up being isolated and shunned. Nevertheless I would like to encourage everyone to just have a little bit more integrity and to look more closely at their so-called “friends” on Facebook. If you can’t stand for what they post on Facebook, chances are you won’t tolerate what they say and do in “real life”, so why would you want to be friends with them? I advocate radical “unfriending” as a political act!