The great thing about the Web is that it has given the opportunity to billions of people, who would otherwise never have had a chance to publish, to express their most urgent thoughts with an Internet connection and a few finger-flicks. It’s also the Web’s downside, as you know if you’ve had the misfortune to encounter a triple-Lutz revolting page during a Google search.
But thanks to the First Amendment, there are few U.S. laws banning expression on the Web outside of posting child pornography, specific physical threats, libel or copyright infringement. So there are few ways to eliminate hostile, ugly, vile, racist, sexist or bigoted speech from its many, many pages.
That doesn’t mean that there’s no recourse should you find content on the Web you disapprove of, as we learned this month when Facebook surrendered to a protest and boycott led by two groups, Women, Action, and the Media and the Everyday Sexism Project, and activist Soraya Chemaly. They opposed depictions of rape and violence posted by Facebook users and demanded, among other things, the removal of such “gender-based hate speech” from its pages. They also sought better policing by Facebook moderators to block future user-posted content that “trivializes or glorifies violence against girls and women.”
To illustrate its objections, Women, Action, and the Media posted screen-grab examples of gender-based hate speech from Facebook members’ pages. Some of the images juxtapose photos of women in degrading or helpless positions with messages promising rape. “Slipped the Bitch a Roofie—Bitches Love Roofies,” reads the copy over one unconscious young woman in her undergarments.
Others make jokes of women bleeding from the face or black-and-blue from a beating. “She Broke My Heart. I Broke Her Nose,” reads another.