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May 31, 2013

Viral campaign targets Facebook groups celebrating violence against women

STILLWATER — Earlier this week, Facebook announced that it would take immediate steps to monitor pages and posts that celebrated violence against women. The catalyst? A viral campaign by several feminist groups that, within seven days, turned Facebook's seediest underbelly into a public outrage.

              

The push began with an open letter to the site posted on Women, Action &  the Media (WAM), which spotlighted anti-woman Facebook groups such as "Violently Raping Your Girlfriend Just for Laughs" and "Fly Kicking Sluts in the Uterus." An accompanying gallery features stomach-churning images of battered women with captions like "She broke my heart. I broke her nose."

              

A Twitter campaign garnered 60,000 supporters' tweets imploring Facebook to revisit its policies, and several advertisers - most notably Nissan U.K. - announced they would pull ads from the site unless changes were made.

              

Soraya Chemaly, 47, a Washington-based writer-activist, was a main player in the campaign, along with WAM and the Everyday Sexism Project. In the edited transcript below, she speaks about her involvement and the challenges ahead.

 

              

Q. What drew you to do this kind of activism?

              

A. I've always been a feminist, even back in the early days. Now, I've been writing as a feminist cultural media critic: the role of gender in our culture, with a strong interest in sexualized violence. I've written about sexual harassment in the workplace. I write about street harassment - we tend to trivialize it, but globally it's the normalized control of women in public spaces.

              

Q. It's interesting that you write about street harassment, when Facebook has become, in many ways, a version of a public street.

              

A. We take our experiences online with us. I call it the digital safety gap - men are much more likely to say they feel safe online. . . . We can't separate online life from the real world. . . . You don't have to go out of your way to find this [violent material] online - anyone with fingertips and eyeballs could have found it. You would type "slut" into Facebook and come back with 30 public groups.

              

Q. Was there an inciting incident for you that launched this project?

              

A. When I first started writing about [violence against women online], people began writing me for help, because they were experiencing danger online. . . . One woman wrote me that the man who had raped her had essentially illustrated the rape on Facebook. A moderator might have thought, "That's just a drawing." But that's not how the woman was experiencing it.

              

Q. Some commenters have suggested that the solution is to de-friend offenders, not to request systemic change.

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