Catherine Buni and Soraya Chemaly write: In December 2012, an Icelandic woman named Thorlaug Agustsdottir discovered a Facebook group called “Men are better than women.” One image she found there, Thorlaug wrote to us this summer in an email, “was of a young woman naked chained to pipes or an oven in what looked like a concrete basement, all bruised and bloody. She looked with a horrible broken look at whoever was taking the pic of her curled up naked.” Thorlaug wrote an outraged post about it on her own Facebook page.
Before long, a user at “Men are better than women” posted an image of Thorlaug’s face, altered to appear bloody and bruised. Under the image, someone commented, “Women are like grass, they need to be beaten/cut regularly.” Another wrote: “You just need to be raped.” Thorlaug reported the image and comments to Facebook and requested that the site remove them.
“We reviewed the photo you reported,” came Facebook’s auto reply, “but found it does not violate Facebook’s Community Standards on hate speech, which includes posts or photos that attack a person based on their race, ethnicity, national origin, religion, sex, gender, sexual orientation, disability, or medical condition.”
Instead, the Facebook screeners labeled the content “Controversial Humor.” Thorlaug saw nothing funny about it. She worried the threats were real.
Some 50 other users sent their own requests on her behalf. All received the same reply. Eventually, on New Year’s Eve, Thorlaug called the local press, and the story spread from there. Only then was the image removed.
In January 2013, Wired published a critical account of Facebook’s response to these complaints. A company spokesman contacted the publication immediately to explain that Facebook screeners had mishandled the case, conceding that Thorlaug’s photo “should have been taken down when it was reported to us.” According to the spokesman, the company tries to address complaints about images on a case-by-case basis within 72 hours, but with millions of reports to review every day, “it’s not easy to keep up with requests.” The spokesman, anonymous to Wired readers, added, “We apologize for the mistake.”
If, as the communications philosopher Marshall McLuhan famously said, television brought the brutality of war into people’s living rooms, the Internet today is bringing violence against women out of it. Once largely hidden from view, this brutality is now being exposed in unprecedented ways. In the words of Anne Collier, co-director of ConnectSafely.org and co-chair of the Obama administration’s Online Safety and Technology Working Group, “We are in the middle of a global free speech experiment.” On the one hand, these online images and words are bringing awareness to a longstanding problem. On the other hand, the amplification of these ideas over social media networks is validating and spreading pathology. [Continue reading…]