Yesterday, Facebook finally put out a statement on the site regarding the feminist anti-violence campaign. In it, they spoke to the balance between allowing controversial ideas, while eliminating that which is harmful.
[W]e also work hard to make our platform a safe and respectful place for sharing and connection. This requires us to make difficult decisions and balance concerns about free expression and community respect. We prohibit content deemed to be directly harmful, but allow content that is offensive or controversial.
My fear with campaigns like the anti-violence campaign on Facebook has always been that controversial, but not violent, material would end up being censored by those seeking to prove they’re “cleaning things up”. That is, that Facebook would overreact in seeking good P.R., and start eliminating controversial ideas, even when they did not celebrate, condone or encourage violence.
I have written in the past about my internal conflict with the concept of free speech. That conflict has led me to tread carefully when people start talking about “hate speech”. In fact, I had to think a bit before deciding whether to join the Feminist Admin campaign this week. However, after careful consideration, the campaign against the violent images about raping and beating women was something I couldn’t refuse to support. These were not people talking about “controversial” topics. These were people reveling in violence, reveling in images of women’s beaten and bloodied bodies. They weren’t trying to arrive at answers to difficult questions. They were just trying to get off on seeing women beaten up.
I consider this blog and the related Facebook page to be controversial. They discuss very controversial topics, such as gender, from a radical perspective. However, I seek to weed out attacks or links that I consider focused on individuals instead of issues. This is why I made a decision a while ago not to post links to some of the more inflammatory radical feminist sites that discuss gender. I felt that some of them were focused on individuals and personal ridicule, instead of being focused on issues. To me, that kind of individual-focused rhetoric doesn’t help anyone. In fact, it turns people off and makes them tune out what is actually being said about the ramifications of certain positions.
The same is true when I discuss my opposition to religion, whether on Facebook or this blog. I abhor violence aimed at individuals because of their religion. I am an adamant supporter of the rights of Palestinians. However, I cannot in good conscience allow that to keep me from discussing religion as ideology and how it is a tool in women’s oppression. The stakes for real women are too high.
I would consider the Facebook pages of Male Privilege Activists (a.k.a Men’s Rights Activists, or MRAs) to be controversial, but I would not seek to have one shut down if it didn’t post the kind of content this campaign has focused on. I may despise what they have to say, but I’m not going to report them for “hate speech”. In fact, I’m not going to bother with them at all. I may criticize them, but I’m not going to seek out their nonsense.
Anyway, I hope Facebook gets it right. I hope they can find the balance that allows us to discuss controversial ideas, while keeping the images that celebrate violence out. We’ll have to wait and see, I guess.