The announcement that Facebook will start to block or remove posts that include hateful content is significant. As a dad, as a man, as a human being—it’s a welcome change to a disturbing side effect of social media. Images that promote or celebrate hate and violence—notably when directed at women or teens—will not be allowed.
Yes, this is absolutely the right thing to do. Yes, this is an important first step in curbing social acceptance of the twisted humour that underlies rape culture. And yes, Facebook is a benchmark that affects a large part of social media communities. Without a doubt, this announcement is a victory.
But it’s a hollow victory.
I’m not convinced it’s a victory worth celebrating so cheerfully. How we got here—the real catalyst for change—is sad. Almost a step backwards.
It’s disturbing that it was only the threat of financial loss that prompted Facebook to take action. And while any action is a step in the right direction, it’s disappointing that a corporations that have the attention of almost a billion people still answer only to the greed of shareholders. The organizations themselves have no social value system that we can trust to do the right thing—a good thing—not just the financially rewarding thing.
None of the men or women or parents—or anyone with a speck of conscience—who hold any power, choice or influence at Facebook saw any need to look at the social destruction running amok within their product until it latched on to their bank accounts. Not Amanda Todd. Not Rehteah Parsons. Not any of the thousands of kids who face torment and bullying. None of these incidents was enough to say “Stop, we should better enforce the rules already in place.”
But 11 companies pulling their ads triggered action. And, if we’re being honest, it took consumers pushing advertisers—a petition—before advertisers noticed and decided the consequences were important. Money trumps morality.
This move won’t stop the hate masquerading as jokes; it will show up on a different site. This move didn’t create consequence for the perpetrators of the twisted memes or hate-filled taunting; they can continue to spread their venom to anyone willing or apathetic enough to accept it. This didn’t address the issue or change perspective or improve understanding; it just pushed it away.
At best it shows what is possible, and that some people—enough people—are starting to care. The next step is important.
The idea that morality has a price but not a cost must change; we need to be citizens first, not just consumers. The idea that a company can pay merely lip service to it’s own terms and conditions without actually enforcing them must stop; we need to hold leaders accountable to promises and their impact on society. The idea that shareholder value and profitability trumps everything else must stop; we need a social cost to be just as important and measurable as a financial cost.
I don’t know how we take this next step.
I don’t know how we move the needle so that we expose and stop the trend of hate & torment that parallels all the positive aspects of social media. I don’t know how we help the perpetrators understand the real danger and damage, and make sure authorities call it out for what it is—a crime. I don’t know how we instill empathy and understanding for others within those who seem to lack any.
But as a dad, a man and a human being, I continue to try. One step—maybe a leap—at a time.
UPDATE: Mere hours after writing this article, I saw this post about the possibility of the Italian government considering legal action for Facebook’s failure to prevent hate on it’s site. Another step forward, perhaps.