This week, after a weeklong campaign led by a coalition of over 100 gender equality groups, Facebook announced that it would reevaluate and update its guidelines for monitoring hate speech. The #FBrape campaign inspired individuals around the world to send over 60,000 tweets and 5,000 emails to Facebook and the corporations whose ads were displayed on pages dedicated to promoting rape and violence against women. While Facebook eventually responded to the outcry, the majority of the corporations did next-to-nothing.
In a landmark statement posted on Tuesday, the world's largest social network pledged to make changes to better protect the hundreds of millions of women and girls who make up their community of over 1 billion users. The success of this campaign exemplifies the ability of social media and online organizing to give voice to the marginalized and oppressed, and to create real change in the world. While we should applaud Facebook's decision to publicly stand up to violence against women, one has to wonder: why did it take them so long to recognize this problem? Why did consumers in particular have to be so outspoken before we saw any real change? And, what kind of corporate advertiser doesn't forcefully stand against "rape jokes" and violence against women?
The images and pages at the center of this campaign are clearly hateful and not the kind of thing any brand should want to be associated with. Yet instead of removing or pausing their ads until the issue had been constructively resolved, most of Facebook's advertisers called out by the #FBrape hashtag responded by claiming that since they hadn't intentionally placed their ads next to these violent pages, they bore no responsibility. They insisted that Facebook targets ads at individuals - not pages - and so there was no way to avoid this kind of mix-up. It was simply the way things worked.
The ugly truth here is that, for some companies, profits were more important than people this week. A sad reality for most of the corporate world, most of the time. Truth be told, so much of our corporate leadership remains disconnected from values such as care and empathy. And, as a result, they are blind to the harm being inflicted on their consumers and disconnected from the impact their corporate decisions have on the culture at large.
Thankfully there was some corporate leadership this past week. I want to commend Nissan and the 14 other companies who led the charge in taking action by pledging to withdraw their advertising from the site immediately. These corporations should be applauded for their strong stances.
Candypolis, a small UK-based candy company who joined Nissan in removing their Facebook ads, gained positive press for a note they posted during the campaign:
"We understand we're a small company at the moment and that our stance will have little impact on this subject singly, but we hope that we might encourage others to do the same and that together we may be able to stop this from happening."
This is just an important reminder to advertisers everywhere that they too can vote with their corporate dollars. And that they too can be heroic and stand up for justice.
But if they choose not to, well, there are tens of thousands of us willing to remind them, again and again, that as long as they stay silent, they are complicit. And, who wants to walk around with that kind of guilt?!
This week was only a hint of what we - as a global coalition of human rights advocates - are capable of. So let's continue to demand a corporate and broader culture that uplifts us all. If not now, when?