nist twist” to friends’ icons.
6 To be
more than ‘window dressing’, social
networking managers must appreciate
that it is impossible to have a gender-neutral stance in a gender-imbalanced
world and that commitment to social
justice requires commitment to becoming gender aware. It might not be
the goal but it can be the outcome of
social networking sites to exacerbate
gender discrimination. A gender-aware
stance requires changes in design
of moderation policies and systems.
Facebook and other social media platforms should align their actions and
systems to support the empowerment
of women, and not to support the patriarchal social order. To do this they
must distinguish postings in terms
of intent. Sexual content posted for
emancipatory purposes is not comparable to sexual content posted for soliciting or selling sex that is often degrading of women and female bodies, even
when it seems similar. Intent is un-derdetermined by words and images.
The meaning and purpose of postings
should be informed by the values that
drive the posting and the context in
which it happens. Such design might
require an upgrade of the systems that
screen postings and reporting to involve human, social and computing
elements and their interrelationships.
Designing for social change is more
challenging than designing for social
harmony. Why should that hold computer scientists back?
1. Abraham, K.B. Sex, respect and freedom from shame:
Zambian women create space for social change
through social networking. In I. Buskens and A.
Webb, Eds., Women and ICT in Africa and the Middle
East: Changing Selves, Changing Societies. Zed Books,
London, 2014, 195–207.
2. Best, M.L. The Internet that Facebook built. Commun.
ACM 57, 12 (Dec. 2014), 21–23.
3. Chemaly, S. Facebook’s big misogyny problem.
The Guardian (2013); http://bit.ly/2lzsvUN
4. Dent, G. The day Facebook banned Clementine
Ford.’ Women’s Agenda (June 22, 2015); http://bit.
5. Facebook. Facebook Community Standards (2015);
6. Hern, A. Facebook gets a feminist twist with new
friends icons, (July 8, 2015); http://bit.ly/1eFpZrK
7. Women, Action, and the Media. ‘Open Letter to
Facebook’ (May 21, 2013); http://bit.ly/2m9hVa9
Ineke Buskens ( firstname.lastname@example.org) is an independent
research, evaluation and gender consultant working
internationally with emphasis on Africa and the Middle
East. She has been the main editor of the two books
published by the Gender Research into ICT for Women
Empowerment in Africa and the Middle East (GRACE)
Net work. Kiss Brian Abraham is the GRACE Zambia
Copyright held by author.
would make Facebook complicit in
the real-world crimes that happened
in the aftermath of the pages’ closures. In one case, a male involved
the police, found out where the owner
of the site in question worked, and
attempted to scandalize her at her
workplace. In another case, a student
at the National Institute for Public Administration had her Facebook identity taken over, and naked pictures
were posted. Lewd behavior is a crime
under Zambian law, so she could have
been physically arrested. There is evidence that this attack was orchestrated by a man whose sexual advances
she refused. She had to change her
real name, losing part of her identity
and sense of historical self.
Facebook’s response to the Zambi-
an pages is not an isolated event. Other
cases have been reported where Face-
book took down pages critical of wom-
en’s sexualization and discrimination,
while sustaining pages that normalize
4 It is alleged
that Facebook only responds to take-
down requests that challenge male
hegemony if not responding would in-
volve economic risk, for instance when
advertisers distance themselves from
Facebook—something that happened
after a coalition of women’s organiza-
tions released an open letter in 20137
stating that they did not want to be
associated with images depicting vio-
lence against women.
3 Facebook may
have been motivated in the Zambian
case by respect for cultural norms and
practices, taking the lead as to what
postings were acceptable or not from
what it considered as community con-
sensus. But many cultural contexts
are sexist, so such a stance could also
amount to colluding with gender dis-
crimination. Facebook and other so-
cial networking sites say they want to
contribute to making the “world more
open and connected.”
2, 5 If so, they
must be sensitive to how deeply male
hegemony impacts online spaces, and
how online sexism forms and informs
offline lived realities.
It is a nice gesture to give a “femi-