Under the banner of free speech, companies like Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube have been host to rape videos and revenge porn—which makes female users feel anything but free.
All of this raised a series of troubling questions: Who’s proliferating this violent content? Who’s controlling its dissemination? Should someone be?
Jillian C. York, director for international freedom of expression at the Electronic Frontier Foundation, is one of many civil libertarians who believe Facebook and other social media platforms should not screen this, or any, content at all. “It of course must be noted that the company—like any company—is well within its rights to regulate speech as it sees fit,” she wrote in a May 2013 piece in Slate in response to growing activism. “The question is not can Facebook censor speech, but rather, should it?” She argues that censoring any content “sets a dangerous precedent for special interest groups looking to bring their pet issue to the attention of Facebook’s censors.”
When the problem involves half the world’s population, it’s difficult to classify it as a “pet issue.” What’s more, there are free speech issues on both sides of the regulated content equation. “We have the expressive interests of the harassers to threaten, to post photos, to spread defamation, rape threats, lies on the one hand,” explains Citron. “And on the other hand you have the free speech interests, among others, of the victims, who are silenced and are driven offline.”
Soraya, Bates, and Jaclyn Friedman, the executive director of Women, Action, and Media, a media justice advocacy group, joined forces and launched a social media campaign designed to attract advertisers’ attention. The ultimate goal was to press Facebook to recognize explicit violence against women as a violation of its own prohibitions against hate speech, graphic violence, and harassment.
As President Obama put it in mid-September, “It is on all of us to reject the quiet tolerance of sexual assault and to refuse to accept what’s unacceptable.”
I think the platform is an extremely important factor in the seriousness of communication because of its foundation for the context of that communication. Furthermore, specifically for the internet, there are jurisdictional issues which would have far ranging consequences if solved with only “violence against women” in mind. Many empowered western-culture women may reasonably wish to have threatening internet comments prosecuted the same way as if those comments had been physically snail-mailed to them, even if the sender/commenter is foreign from abroad. However, that opens the door to the question about prosecutions in the other direction, which I would find far more problematic.
This to me begs the question “What is good enough?”