Vigilante takedowns of Facebook pages

It’s not uncommon for people to report Facebook pages they don’t like, in an attempt to get them removed. Sometimes, people report pages even though there is little evidence of any actual violations of Facebook’s polices. Many probably hope that when Facebook is presented with a large number of reports about the same page, it will simply remove the page without investigating, or will remove it after a very superficial investigation.

In a feminist group on Facebook, I encountered some folks who are enthusiastically engaging in this sort of vigilante action, collectively reporting pages they find sexist, using “nudity or pornographic content” as a pretext. In one recent case, they paraded the results of a successful removal, congratulating one another on a job well done.

This kind of vigilante action is troublesome for a few reasons. First, it is dishonest, and likely to result in short-lived, Pyrrhic victories. Pages that actually violate the policy will remain closed. However, ones that were reported on false pretenses will quite often be reopened following review. If the grounds on which the page was reported were found not to be valid, the integrity of the reporter will also be called into question, limiting the effectiveness of the approach in the long-term, like the boy who cried wolf. Moreover, this approach does nothing to address the problems that actually motivated reporting the pages in the first place.

That brings me to the second problem with this approach: it is simplistic. There are many feminists who do not object to nudity or pornography per se, but who are dedicated in the fight against sexism, gender discrimination, unequal treatment of women in the workplace, the negative effects of outdated gender stereotypes, and so on. Where do these feminists fit in? There are surely also pages that have nudity or sexual content that runs afoul of Facebook’s policies, but to which many feminists do not object. There are many points of view among feminists on the topics of women, nakedness and sexuality. These topics are worthy of fair and open discussion. It’s dismissive and disrespectful to the diversity of opinions within the feminist movement to use nakedness and sex as a false pretext when pursuing feminist aims.

The common ground shared by feminists is fighting for gender equality and for an improvement in the lives of women. It would be far better to be honest about our motivations, and report pages for sexism if that is what we find objectionable about them. If Facebook’s policies are not clear enough in prohibiting this sort of content, then that’s where we should take the fight. We can accomplish more by convincing Facebook to prohibit pages that “promote discrimination on the basis of gender”. (And while we’re at it, we could get them to include gender identity and sexual orientation too!)

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