Change Your Policies, Say Kerala Women Activists to FB

Online sexual harassment and misogynist abuse from trolls is not a new thing for women who express independent views and opinions on social and political issues, especially in patriarchal societies. A group of women activists from Kerala are fed up with it and have decided to do something about it.

Calling themselves “Women in Campaign”, this informal group has started an online campaign ‘For a better FB’. They want Facebook to change its policies on online abuse and on user privacy (“real name“ policy). They say Facebook’s “flimsy community policies” are putting women’s lives in danger and fuelling online harassment, violence and hatred against women.

It all started when Preetha G, a Facebook user with 22k followers who posts regularly on politics and other issues, was abused, slut shamed and even threatened with rape through FB pages in Malayalam. She had written posts critical of G Sudhakaran, CPI(M) leader, and of late President APJ Abdul Kalam. The hate pages contained her morphed images with sexually explicit abuses, instigated violence and targeted even her family including her autistic son.

When Preetha and her friends reported these pages to FB, the company’s response was that these pages “don’t violate community standards”.

What is more, Facebook shut down Preetha’s and some of her supporters’ pages saying they violated its “Real Name Policy” (which says use real names in full for creating profiles), probably as a result of mass reporting by the very same abusers.

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Similar stories of abuse and hate campaigns have emerged from other countries as well. The problem gets magnified in non-English cultures as Facebook does not have enough regional language experts or understanding of the cultural complexities involved.

On August 18, a couple of people representing various organisations and other activists working for this cause met with Facebook Policy Heads in US and India.

Three main demands the group have put forth to Facebook are:

a) Right to Privacy – To get rid of the real name policy and its associated proceedings.

b) Right for protection against hate crimes – A systemized responsive system or a set of language experts for assessing hate pages in non-English languages and a timely response and follow up in such situations.

c) Right to culture – Facebook needs to understand the complexity of non-English cultures and cannot impose its American corporate colonization into other societies. It urgently needs to appoint linguistic experts who can verify hate pages and understand regional languages and it nuances.

Responses

The campaign hashtagged #forabetterFB has received widespread support from prominent personalities, women’s rights activists and digital rights groups across the world.

Here are some of them:

Noam Chomsky (Intellectual and linguist) —
The treatment of women in South Asian societies has long been shameful and intolerable. The efforts to overcome the scandalous abuse of women in social media merit strong encouragement and support.

Zoya Rehman, Coordinator GenderTech, Bytes for All, Pakistan –
Social media platforms such as Facebook are slowly beginning to reflect real-life injustices and inequalities, as their administrators keep siding with trolls and remind us – women, sexual minorities, sex workers, sometimes even men – that we are forever vulnerable. Despite active pleas, victims are continuously being silenced, while Facebook keeps contributing implicitly to online abuse against the already marginalized.

Venkitesh Ramakrishnan, Journalist –
Abuse is unacceptable; irrespective of gender. But as in the physical world women bear the brunt of the most vulgar and oppressive forms of abuse in the virtual world too. This has become a phenomenon growing by the day and needs to be addressed. One way to do this is to revise some of the existing systems and templates that dictate social media. A better social media needs necessarily to be a more just social media.

Nighat Dad, Digital Rights Foundation –
“No one should have to live in fear because of their gender or their opinions or be afraid to exercise their right to freedom of expression online. Now is the time that we should hold social media platforms like facebook and twitter accountable as what are their roles in providing safety to the women while keeping the spaces online and free of abuse.”

Kavitha Krishnan, Secretary of the All India Progressive Women’s Association –
This initiative is most important because it creates a sense of a progressive community, a supportive one. As a result, those facing abuse or objecting to abusive remarks against Dalits or women in general, feel less isolated and can connect with each other and use shared resources to seek action.
In my experience, Facebook does not seem to easily recognise even rape threats and blatant gendered and casteist abuse. Any campaign to correct and improve this response is extremely welcome.

Kislay Gonsalvaz, Filmmaker –
Facebook has now emerged as a powerful social medium for communication and provides an alternative space for the news that are conveniently ignored by the corporate funded media. So, naturally such spaces are considered as threat by the majoritarian forces. We have recently witnessed the proliferation of cybergoons vehemently attacking any voice of dissent in the online spaces and outrightly abusing and threatening such voices. An initiative like forabetterFB should be welcomed and supported strongly in this context. I extend my full solidarity with forabetterFb campaign.

N S Madhavan, writer –
It is hell for women in Indian language @facebook. They look the other way when they are abused. Silence them when the abusers complain.

Facebook page for the campaign: https://www.facebook.com/womenincampaign
Hashtag for solidarity: #forabetterfb

(Featured picture: ‘Her Road Ahead’, an acrylic painting by Beena Pradhan)

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