“Well, in every complicated situation in all the human relation |
Makin’ sense of it all takes a whole lotta concentration |
Well, you can’t blame a baby for her pregnant ma |
And if there’s one of these unavoidable laws |
It’s that you just can’t take the effect and make it the cause, no”
Jack White – Effect & Cause
Sexual assault is a widespread problem not just in our country, but in our world. Recently a group called Women, Action, & The Media (WAM) circulated a petition to Facebook advertisers along with several grassroots movements demanding they pull their money from Facebook unless they remove gender hate speech and rape jokes from their site. I applaud the group for recognizing a problem in our society and taking a non-violent stance. What I don’t agree with is the targets they chose to attack and the solution they came up with. Censorship is never the right answer. In fact, censorship merely creates more problems.
When I first decided to write this, I did a Google search of the term “Rape Jokes,” which I’ve never done in my life. On the first page of this virgin web search I came across some very interesting websites that do a great job of illustrating the problem with censorship. The first search result that caught my eye as I scrolled down was titled “15 Rape Jokes That Work” by Kate Harding.
I recognized Kate’s name from earlier in the day. She is supporting the censorship action. I remembered seeing her name as one of the top tweet results for the hashtag #FBRape when I looked it up on Twitter. Here’s her tweet:
It’s a private company that bans lots of vicious content. Ask yourself whyyou suddenly care when rape imagery is threatened. #FBRape
— Kate Harding (@KateHarding) May 30, 2013
Let’s breeze past that Facebook is actually publicly owned (not a private company), and focus on the important issue. Kate is taking a hardline stance against rape jokes and rape imagery on Facebook, and yet her own personal site is on the front page of a Google search for the term “rape joke,” which again, is a term I never would have looked up had this censorship not occurred.
I get the point of Kate’s blog post. I love the comedians she used as examples of rape jokes that work. Some of the bits (to include Louis CK and Sarah Silverman) are the same ones I use to make the argument against censoring rape jokes. I wholeheartedly understand that there is a difference in artistic merit. I’m not one of the people out there committing sexual assault though. What I’m more concerned about is how somebody has the audacity to threaten a company for doing exactly what she herself is guilty of doing on her own website.
If we’re going to draw a line, should that not be where the line is drawn? Are we willing to use humor as the level by which we judge free speech? What gives Kate the right to make the moral judgment of whether or not something is funny? Who died and made her God?
Kate’s not the only offender on the first page of Google results. Jezebel, a popular female-centric website named after what I was under the impression is a derogatory term used for women, also has one of the most popular results for “rape jokes” on the internet.
While watching the video and reading the comments, I was even further confused. Ever Mainard, the comedian in the video and a white woman, does an extremely racist impression of a black man. The first comment I read was from a woman excusing the racism by stating that male privilege makes it difficult to understand the fear women have of going out at night. Are we seriously at a point in our society where people are whipping out their lifetime of trauma to see which is bigger?
No woman can go out at night without a justifiable fear of being raped, and no black man can go out without a justifiable fear of being accused of a crime. Judging by the comments on Jezebel’s website, we have to choose between these two serious and long standing problems in our society. I don’t believe we do have to choose. I believe both are serious issues that need to be addressed and corrected immediately, but I must ask: How will censorship fix either of them? Does anyone believe stopping someone from verbally expressing their opinion on either subject, no matter how vile that opinion may be, will actually stop the thoughts and actions of the perpetrators?
So let’s take the focus off these women-centric sites and away from the many issues of hypocrisy created by censorship for a moment to focus on another issue WAM ignored. Wedged in between these two results was a website which showcases another issue with censoring Facebook. I didn’t see any Facebook pages when I searched for rape jokes. What I did find was this site:
Censoring rape jokes on Facebook not only isn’t stopping rape, it’s not even stopping rape jokes on the Internet. In fact, it’s not even stopping rape jokes on social media. Here’s a collection I found from the top tweets listed for the term “Rape” on Twitter:
Is the next step to censor Twitter and the rest of the internet? If so, I once again have to wonder if the rape jokes from Jezebel (they have multiple articles on the subject of rape jokes) and other sites will also be censored. If WAM is successful and we remove rape imagery from the Internet entirely, do we think that will stop rape from happening? Was anyone ever raped before the Internet? If the entire Internet is censored and rape continues, what’s next? Will we then chase after Louis CK, Sarah Silverman, et al with torches and pitchforks demanding they be removed from Hollywood? What if rape still continues? What do we do next?
Before answering that last question, I must digress for a brief moment. Ignoring the widespread problem of rape in society and censorship in general, I’d like to follow WAM’s lead and focus solely on Facebook. It’s important to understand how Facebook works. I never once saw any mention of rape on my Facebook news feed. My news feed is comprised only of people and groups I chose to follow. None of my family or friends posts that type of thing. This means these women’s friends and family are the ones posting the inappropriate material to Facebook or they took it upon themselves to search the site for rape. One can make the argument that they were searching it for a purpose, but one can also make the argument that people were posting the jokes for a purpose.
I viewed the offending images not on Facebook, but on WAM’s website where they have been ironically preserved after already being removed from Facebook, once again defeating the purpose of censoring them. Instead of focusing further on that hypocrisy, I have to point out one image in particular that I saw. This image has the phrase “Hope you have pet insurance because I’m about to destroy your p***y.” That phrase has nothing to do with sexual assault or rape. It’s a common slang term you can read more about on Yahoo! Answers, which again begs the question, where do we draw the line? Will I be arrested for telling a woman I want to tap that a**? Are we going to ban sexting completely? Should we turn Facebook into the town from Footloose and ban dancing as well?
Also it’s very important to know that the ads shown in the offensive pictures had nothing to do with the content of the pages these women were looking at. Facebook collects your personal information for many reasons. Targeted ads are one of these reasons. Dove, Zappos, Les Mis in the iTunes store, driving school, designer handbags, a wedding registry — these are clearly ads aimed at the women signed in to the Facebook account and not the pages they’re directly viewing. So essentially what this group did was bully these companies by associating them with rape. I get the point was to hit Facebook’s wallet, but I question whether the ends justified the means.
From my perspective, you’re just as guilty for posting messages on Dove’s Facebook page that they support rape because you don’t understand how Facebook’s ads work as the idiots who posted the offensive images in the first place. In fact you’re actually worse, because you’re bringing up the same trauma in rape victims and smearing the name of a company that has nothing to do with it and costing a lot of people at those companies stress, time, and money. As Gandhi said, “an eye for an eye only serves to make the whole world blind.”
The Real Solution
But enough about the problems of censorship because what point is there in pointing them out without providing a better solution? My solution is the same one Anonymous has pushed since publicizing the Steubenville and Rehtaeh Parsons rape cases, which were only investigated because evidence was posted online: Education.
Prior to publicly shaming the Steubenville suspects, Anonymous offered to visit the school to provide rape education and was denied. Rather than removing the offensive video and images, Anonymous used them to garner the attention the case deserved. I agree that reliving the moment is difficult for the victims, but they have to relive it over and over anyway when explaining it to their family/friends, the police, and the courts, and they may or may not be believed. Are we really helping victims by burying our heads in the sand? What example are we setting as a society by doing that?
Education and awareness are the only productive solutions I see, and censorship provides neither. Even if there is another solution, we’ll never know for sure if we don’t have the data, and censoring people’s speech prohibits us from accurately gathering that data. Social media is a reflection on society, and by censoring it, not only are we not resolving the issue, but we’re making it more difficult to identify. Once we do resolve the inequalities in our society, and I truly believe we’re capable, we’ll only end up with a totalitarian society. If censorship isn’t going to stop these crimes from being committed, why are we doing it? Instead of everyone being free, nobody will.
Is that really what we want?
If it is, then stop this world right now…because I want to get off…
Brian Penny is a former Business Analyst at Bank of America turned whistleblower, freelance consultant, and troll. He’s a frequent contributor to The Street, Cannabis Now, and Fast Company, Huffington Post, Mainstreet, Lifehack, and HardcoreDroid.