In a recent post on my Ethical Adman blog, I talked about the problem Facebook is having with branded social ads showing up on pages and posts that are misogynistic and violent:
Facebook’s problem with pages that promote rape culture is well known. The social network that has the sensibilities of a stereotyped grannie when it comes to showing certain kinds of nudity in even the most innocent context can’t seem to stop pages that encourage criminal assault and rape.
The issue of brand ads showing up on awful Facebook pages made mainstream news yesterday when it was revealed that Dove — that paragon of pro-women marketing — had one of its ads show up on a page called “Drop kicking sluts in the teeth”.
If Facebook hasn’t taken steps to rectify this advertising problem yet (and, let’s face it, advertising is their whole business) then they may be forced to be a new online movement.
Women, Action & The Media has launched a campaign to put pressure on both Facebook and its advertisers to control “gender-based hate speech” on its pages, the same way they say it does with other hate speech:
Facebook has long allowed content endorsing violence against women. They claim that these pages fall under the “humor” part of their guidelines, or are expressions of “free speech.” But Facebook has proven willing to crack down on other forms of hate speech, including anti-Semitic, Islamophobic and homophobic speech, without claiming such exemptions.
That’s why we’re calling on Facebook to make the only responsible decision and ban gender-based hate speech.
The page then calls out major brands, including American Express and Dove, by including screencaps (above) of their ads beside misogynist memes. The group encourages consumers to contact these brands directly, via e-mail or on Facebook, and to raise awareness on Twitter with the hashtag #FBrape.
They also put the call out for FB users to send them more screencaps of brand ads beside misogynist content. You can read their press release here.
Is this censorship? Well, yes. It is. But the question of whether hate speech should be a protected freedom is a contentious one. While some internet libertarians might balk at any restriction of expression online, there are obviously legal and — in Facebook’s case — economic consequences to hosting content that the jurisdictions or audiences they depend on consider harmful to others.
The problem of defining what is “harmful” varies by culture and subculture, and always makes for lively debate. But for Facebook’s advertisers the potential harm to their reputation from being associated with content that publicly violates their brand’s stated principals (or in Dove’s case, completely undermines their corporate social responsibility work) the issue is a little more cut-and-dried.
To put it simply, no brand that sells to people of empathy and conscience wants to be seen promoting this:
And that’s all there is to it. Will the movement succeed? Depends on how much traction it gets. And that is in your hands.
UPDATE: Zipcar has already responded.
Women, Action & the Media