Purely a figment of your imagination

What amuses, annoys, concerns or otherwise interests me – Noodlemaz

FBrape campaign



On May 21st 2013, the Women, Action  & the Media group wrote an open letter to Facebook, which was signed by over 100 advocacy groups, asking them to review their policies on permitted content.


There has long been a problem on the site. While its “community standards” seem to be fairly clear:

Facebook does not permit hate speech, but distinguishes between serious and humorous speech*. While we encourage you to challenge ideas, institutions, events, and practices, we do not permit individuals or groups to attack others based on their race, ethnicity, national origin, religion, sex, gender, sexual orientation, disability or medical condition.

Facebook does not tolerate bullying or harassment.

Sharing any graphic content for sadistic pleasure is prohibited.

Facebook has a strict policy against the sharing of pornographic content and any explicitly sexual content where a minor is involved. We also impose limitations on the display of nudity. We aspire to respect people’s right to share content of personal importance, whether those are photos of a sculpture like Michelangelo’s David or family photos of a child breastfeeding.”

These rules seemed to be enforced in a somewhat sporadic and misdirected manner.

People were often complaining of their breastfeeding photos being taken down. While some may (oddly) disagree with people being public about the act, people should be able to share these images on their own platforms. You can hide other people’s photos that you don’t personally want to see. But these images were being removed because they were ‘offensive’ and breaching the terms.

In a now-famous case, one woman who had undergone a double mastectomy followed by an ambitious tattoo project had her torso image taken down. This was not a pornographic image. Other educational materials have been removed, even anatomical drawings, which one would have thought would surely be unobjectionable.

Yet, alongside all of this, some very disturbing and hateful pages were being left alone. Pages sharing images of women with extensive facial injuries, bruising and bleeding, hair emerging from a closed car boot, women collapsed at the bottom of flights of stairs, men forcing women’s heads down toilets – all with nasty misogynistic captions including incitement to rape and domestic violence – and purely pornographic pages devoted to sharing photos of “sluts” and people’s ex-girlfriends. Graphic examples (not for the faint of heart) and some more background on the campaign as it went along can be found on this page.

So, what could be done about this?


Facebook makes a lot of money from advertising. Companies pay to promote their ads, and these are semi-customisable as to where they appear on the site, and to whom. The hateful pages as described above also have ads displayed, so what WAM and other groups (including @everydaysexism and @thewomensroomUK) did was to start a hashtag campaign on twitter alongside the open letter: #FBrape.

On this hashtag, users shared screenshots of companies’ ads featuring on these pages with violent misogynistic content and asked them to pull their funding from Facebook. Reporting the pages individually has never worked; even if the complaint is upheld, a new page springs up and remains unchallenged.  So getting companies to affect Facebook’s profits seemed a more sensible and effective way to go.


Within days, companies started to pull their ads from the site in response to rising pressure via Twitter and letter-writing. Articles were written for the Independent and the Guardian and the campaign was shared widely by individuals and sites such as Buzzfeed and Huffington Post.


This week, Facebook has agreed to review its policies and has taken down a large number of pages, as well as making plans to work with WAM and the Everyday Sexism project to implement new guidelines and monitoring. Facebook’s statement and WAM‘s statement are available to read. See also: BBCChannel 4 News, HuffPo and HuffPo again.

While companies like Nissan helped this campaign to work by ceasing to pay for adverts on Facebook, others notably did not, instead steadfastly refusing to engage with tweets and comments asking why. It will be interesting to see if anything ever comes of this given how many people have pledged not to buy their products any more. Dove and audible.co.uk, for example.

I’d like to see a list of companies who did and didn’t pull their ads, so that people can continue to make informed choices about their purchases. Please leave a comment if you have such a list, or one company name you’d like to highlight.

Dove seemed not to pay attention to the campaign or what people were saying, instead giving a standard copy-paste response in some cases:

Thank you for raising this. Dove is committed to representing beauty of all ages, ethnicities, shapes and sizes. We believe in celebrating real beauty and in raising the self-esteem of women and young girls globally. We were shocked to see our advert on these kinds of pages and have spoken to Facebook who have removed all the pages that have come to our attention. If you do see a page like this, please private message us the link so that we can ask Facebook to remove it. As Facebook advertising targets people, not pages, we cannot select which pages our adverts appear on. For the future, we have refined our targeting to reduce the chance of any adverts appearing on similar pages. If there are more pages like this that haven’t been removed, please private message the links to us and we’ll have Facebook take these down.

As stated above, reporting individual pages does not solve the problem. It’s clearer policy and enforcement that needed to happen. Fortunately, it seems like it will, regardless.

Social media is an evolving entity. Policy and lawmakers are struggling to keep up – and some users are having spectacular common sense failings in the process. In related fall-out, users who posted on University “rate your shag” pages may now be facing legal action. That’ll teach ’em…

What it wasn’t about

*Free speech. Yes, free speech includes things you find offensive. But Facebook is a service that people sign up to use, and agree to terms of use when they do so. It does not owe anyone a platform, particularly not people who are clearly breaching their guidelines. I’ve talked with friends about other places on the internet that no doubt have extremely offensive content; 4chan etc. Their advertisers choose which boards to advertise on, and in places like b/, the ads will only be from companies who really wouldn’t care about such content (hardcore pornography outlets, for example).

Edit: it’s also not about censorship. People throw this word around a lot lately. Please learn what it means before you join in. Facebook as a company is well within its right to make sure its users comply with the terms of use. People do not lose their right to be misogynistic bastards just because they can’t post whatever they want on Facebook, they can go and do it elsewhere. I can see how close to censorship it seems, but I don’t buy it. Please see the comments below for some other people’s posts and discussion about this.

Some will say we all just need to learn to take a joke. Hopefully this shows that the vast majority of us are no longer willing to accept misogyny covered by a thin veil of supposed comedic intent. Comedy is not about oppressing the already oppressed, or promoting violence and hatred towards certain groups.

Facebook is so widely used now, particularly by younger people, and it has the power to influence general attitudes; it is not only guided by them. By joining the fight against misogyny rather than aiding it, we could start to see some real positive changes. It is heartening to see a campaign so well-organised, with a clear purpose, receive so much support and have such an effect so quickly.

May there be many more.

Author: noodlemaz

I prefer to think of myself as a realist rather than a pessimist, but perhaps that's just optimistic. Honest, atheist, scientist, feminist.

10 thoughts on “FBrape campaign

  1. The thing I appreciate the most about your article is your clear understanding of free speech and private forums, it helps people to truly understand the issue at hand.

  2. Just to add some things, as I’m still thinking about it and reading the comments of others:

    I don’t think the concepts of free speech and censorship apply to specific situations like, for example, the workplace or something like Facebook. We enter into social contracts. The ideas of free speech and censorship are about life in a wider sense, for individuals and communities as part of the state. If *punishment* is involved or not. It is no punishment or real restriction to comply with the things we agree to when we enter into contracts, e.g. for employment or terms of use of certain products.

    We can go and talk about sex in our spare time, but stand up and do it in front of people at work, you might get fired (which, I concede, is a punishment). Is that censorship? I don’t think so, because people should know about appropriate behaviour and what they’ve signed their names to.

    The problem is not what we’re allowed or not allowed to say. The problem is (or was) Facebook’s inconsistent application of its rules, and encouraging people to behave antisocially, through pro-misogynistic/violent content. That’s not what people sign up for. If people want that, there are other places they can do it. If the government threatened to arrest them for it, there’s another story altogether.

    and the ultimate goal of all this feminism shiz is, I thought, to get people to just be. nice. to. each. other.

    Just as we don’t want people on the streets shouting shit at us as we walk past, we don’t want pages in our virtual communities giggling about violent abuse. Facebook is an influencer as well as reactionary, and telling people It’s Not Okay to be dicks about race/gender/sexuality/whatever is potentially an effective way of making some improvements to society, new generations and so on.

    If it’s not a fair argument against street harrassment to cry ‘free speech!’ then I don’t think it is here, either.

    Also, I have previously written about the *need* for offence:

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  5. I am horrified every time I hear or see the use of the word rape incorporated into a pathetic childish hash tag #FBRape or as a descriptor for someone who is describing something that they disagree with or that offends them.

    Stop bastardising words to suit some angry women’s cause.

    Rape is a type of sexual assault usually involving sexual intercourse or other forms of sexual penetration perpetrated against a person without that person’s consent. The act may be carried out by physical force, coercion, abuse of authority or against a person who is incapable of valid consent, such as one who is unconscious, incapacitated, or below the legal age of consent.
    The term rape is sometimes used interchangeably with the term sexual assault.

    • Hi Lisa.
      I’d like to clarify, I did not create this hashtag. Nor would I have chosen it, as I generally agree with you – I would not use the term unless the issue were very directly related to that actual category of assault.

      This is an old and done campaign, and I’d be surprised if such a tag were moulded for this kind of purpose again – precisely because of these criticisms. The best we do is listen to each other, and I expect the vast majority would agree with you.

      Facebook still has its issues, but it’s an online platform, and if it’s not rape imagery, I’d agree that’s not really the idea we should be focusing on.

  6. Here’s a relevant edition: Clementine takes on slut-shaming around revenge porn, shares abuse *men have sent her* and gets banned for it, while reporting the abuse itself… not so much.

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