This week, Facebook earned a lot of good press when they decided to finally adjust their community standards. Previously, photos of breastfeeding women would get deleted after one or two people reported them as inappropriate, while entire Facebook pages promoting violence against women and rape went unchallenged, no matter how many people reported them. When Women's Media Center confronted Facebook on this hypocritical interpretation of their terms of service and organized an advertiser boycott of the company, many were shocked to see Facebook actually respond! And announce a major change in how the site deals with problematic content! Facebook revealed that they would no longer censor photos of breastfeeding mothers, and they would be more active in deleting content that promotes or makes light of violence against women.
Is this new policy actually working, though? Does Facebook have a system in place that allows site users to report problematic content and see it deleted?
Unfortunately, it became clear yesterday that Facebook has not figured out how to respond to content that violates its community standards. It also became clear that the only real way to get Facebook to remove violent sexual content is to make the masses aware of that violent sexual content.
On Tuesday, Liz Boltz Ranfeld, a writer and English professor, stumbled across a now-deleted page for the red light district of Sonagachi in Kolkata, India, while working on a series of posts about her recent volunteer work there. Shocked to find a “community” page that openly promoted prostitution, had graphic photographs of prostitutes engaged in sexual acts, and included some photos of women that appeared to be underaged, she sent a message to a small group of friends in order to ask them to report the site. Slay Belle, who is an editor and author for Persephone Magazine (where Liz is also a contributor) and a contributor for Jezebel's Powder Room, suggested bringing the page to the attention of a larger group of mutual friends and acquaintances.
Within a few hours, everyone who had reported the Facebook page received the same message from a Facebook staffer or robot called Viki. The message explained that Facebook could not verify that the Sonagachi community page violated the site's community standards. No one who received this message could believe what they were reading. If pictures that showed a prostitute performing a blow job didn't violate Facebook's TOS, what did?
Disheartened, Liz and Slay both turned to their respective social media outlets to tell others about Facebook’s inaction. Liz posted an article to her personal blog, and Slay posted to the Powder Room blog at Jezebel.com. They encouraged their friends and readers to spread the word that Facebook was ignoring blatant pornographic material and sex trafficking right there on its own site. In addition, Slay, Liz, and many others reached out through Twitter to Women's Media Center, Feministing, Jezebel, and individuals such as Jessica Valenti and Hugo Schwyzer, asking them to promote the response that Facebook had been sending out to people who reported the page.