Friday, June 7, 2013

Rapebook: An Interview with Author and Activist Trista Hendren

I first learned of your work because I was concerned about misogyny on Facebook, and read Elizabeth Plank’s article about it. She referenced Rapebook, the page you created to fight rape culture on Facebook. What type of content did Rapebook catalog and flag?

Our primary concern was pictures that depicted young girls and violence against women. As we got into it, there were many things I just wish I had never seen. The prevalence of pornography – including child pornography – on Facebook is just huge. Those are things that we could not of course re-post. So a lot of our work was under the radar.

We were criticized that some of the things we posted were really “not that big of a deal.” I think it’s really important to note that what we felt we could post ethically as opposed to what we actually saw ourselves and tried to deal with amongst ourselves were two very different things. One admin in particular was singled out in a horrible way. They even went after her 12-year-old daughter. That particular admin was really the backbone of the page in the last months, and we all owe her an enormous amount of gratitude.

I’m really glad you asked me about Rapebook because you’ve given me the opportunity to acknowledge all the other people who remain nameless who worked so tirelessly on that page.

When did you begin Rapebook, and how long was the page active?

I had written several articles about Facebook in November of last year with little or no response. We started organizing feminist administrators both on and off Facebook to get ourselves better organized to act on these issues.

I started Rapebook with a collective of women in a fit of frustration later that year. It really was done ever so quickly. In retrospect, we should have used “Stop Rapebook” which is actually how our Facebook web address reads, but it grew so fast we never had time to change it. There was a lot of confusion around the page; I think there still is.

The page was active for 4-5 months and had many different women (and men) working on it at various stages. The work was abusive. I often said it was like agreeing to be punched in the face all day. So women came in and out as they were able to and helped and our male partners really helped tremendously at the end to keep it going.

What response, if any, did you receive from Facebook’s leadership when you confronted them with the racist, sexist, violent, and illegal content on their site?

Facebook was always very responsive and professional – I will give them that. But in terms of action, the word impotent comes to mind. Yes, this is offensive, even horrible – but we can’t stop free speech.

What response, if any, has Facebook leadership given concerning the reasons for removing and blocking content that shows women’s bodies breastfeeding, or female anatomy for educational purposes?

They always said it was a “mistake”. I find that hard to believe since it happens so consistently.

You and the other Rapebook administrators are no longer maintaining the page because you received death and rape threats. What lessons have you learned from this experience, both personally and politically?

We actually stayed on after the death threats, which I am not sure many people know. I wanted to get off then, but it was a collective. The other admins felt strongly that we must keep fighting and not be forced off. In retrospect, I’m glad that we stayed.

The reason that we did log off was that it began to affect all of our health. I was the sickest I have ever been for about 2 weeks. One admin started throwing up all the time. It was really disgusting work. And, we just began to think, why are we devoting all our efforts on a volunteer basis to do work that Facebook – with billions of dollars – should be taking care of?

It was a never-ending shit workload. The harder we worked, the more we found. It was impossible for us to keep up—and we began to question whether we were even making a difference.

We felt we would make more of a statement by posting a final letter and leaving the page up on our own terms.

Although Rapebook is now inactive, you and others continue working for change; for example, a group of concerned activists has started the #FBRape Twitter campaign to inform companies about where their ads appear on Facebook. What do you think is our most effective means of fighting violence against women in social media?

I think #FBrape is the most effective campaign we have seen to-date. We are constantly learning how to do this. I learned a lot through Rapebook and some of that has informed this campaign.

My personal opinion is that I don’t want to be on a site that promotes rape and violence against women. I think there is a lot of bad energy on Facebook and it’s not where I want to spend my time.

I believe the best method would be for women to leave Facebook in masse. However, almost no one is willing to do that.

That said, I am very supportive of all the campaigns going on against Facebook because there are a tremendous amount of young people that are affected by this. What’s on Facebook reflects our society at large and I think we need to come out forcefully and say, NO MORE.

That said, I don’t have strong hopes that Facebook will change after working on this for so long. My kids will never have an account on Facebook. We are probably in the minority – we don’t have a TV either. There are not many things that I am strict with my kids on, but this is one of them. Too many kids are bullied. Too many girls have killed themselves. I have just seen too many awful things on Facebook for me to ever consider letting my babies go on that site.

Excerpt from An Interview with Author and Activist Trista Hendren

Admin Melissa weighs in:

I am the admin with the 12 year old daughter being referred to in the first answer about ‘Rapebook’

”We were criticized that some of the things we posted were really “not that big of a deal.” ”
The acceptable sexism because there is no rape, killing and beating involved in it, vs the not acceptable sexism… One has to wonder how it got so far, that there is in fact sexism which is considered normal and within decency limits. I suppose it was the rape, killing and beating that made women and others prioritize in this way, because it is not worth risking being killed or beaten to object to verbal damage to the female reputation and status. We can have free speech, so long as we keep things that are “not that big of a deal.” to ourselves, otherwise we will receive death and rape threats to warn us that we have been saying things again, which are “not that big of a deal.”. Sometimes, I am tempted to abandon all feminism which does not apply to me directly, because it is not a big deal to so many others, even women. It seems so easy to run my own life, and keep patriarchy somewhat out, but when others get involved, the idea that one can live without patriarchy directly in ones family life causes situations like aggressive arguments and more recently death threats come along to oppose me.

”Those are things that we could not of course re-post. So a lot of our work was under the radar.”

And, there were the things we knew, but could not always prove. And, also facebook thought sometimes that removing some content by certain types of people was the problem solved. We know it wasn’t solved, as the hate mobs and their massive networks of followers were still allowed to remain on facebook, minus one or two memes.

The following is what I wrote, about some of the attacks on us, and the ‘Rapebook’ page, by these mobs. Note, the content of these blog is only some of what happened to us and our page.

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