Should Facebook Ban Rape Jokes?

What Women Really Think
Sept. 30 2011 4:38 PM

Should Facebook Ban Rape Jokes?

The Guardian reported today that a coalition of women’s rights groups in the UK and the US are calling on Facebook to ban groups that publish rape jokes on their walls. According to the report, 3,600 people in the UK and 175,000 people on the US have signed petitions on websites such as Change.org. One of the UK organizers, Jane Osmond, explained their position:

This is hate speech…I find it very disturbing that Facebook don't appear to see the connection between pages such as this and the prevailing rape culture we have in our society.

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I checked out one of the offending pages, “You know shes playing hard to get when your [sic] chasing her down an alleyway,” and it was incomprehensible. The page seems to be a random assortment of wall posts displaying stupid jokes and generally silly male teen humor. Moreover, these “jokes” aren’t directed towards anyone specific and smack of the kind of insider references in which teenage groups often traffic. Does that kind of thing really deserve such outrage?

This is not at all to say that rape jokes are OK, but simply that they are a mundane, if distasteful, fact of online life.  I’m reminded of a scene in the Joan Rivers documentary, A Piece of Work, in which an audience member at one of River’s shows takes offense to a deaf joke she makes because his son is deaf. Rivers responds to his heckling by pointing out that comedy is, in large part, about making light of tragedy. Of course, this drivel is not nearly as intelligent as Rivers’ comedy, but I still feel like the same rule applies. Would you ask that the comedy club ban her for saying something offensive as well?  If so, good luck finding any comedian to fill her sanitized spot.

Facebook is resisting the demands to censorship, and I think they’re in the right. The posts do not actively incite rape or sexual assault, and while they may no doubt be offensive to many people, I’d much rather live in an internet culture that has the potential to rile me up than one that tells me exactly what I want to hear.

And of course, one can always choose to “unlike.”

J. Bryan Lowder is a Slate assistant editor. He writes and edits for Outward, Slate’s LGBTQ section, and for the culture section.

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