Millions of people use social networking sites everyday and generally this use is pleasant, informative and often quite useful. Like every mode of communication that links significant numbers of people over bigger and bigger areas, these sites are open to certain types of abuses. One wonders how long it took teenagers of the early twentieth century to start making prank phone calls. Did anyone ever send a sinister message via Morse code?

Inappropriate Content on Facebook

There is a troubling trend on Facebook that goes well beyond pranks or childish fun: Pro-rape pages. A Facebook page can be created by anyone with an account, and a page is essentially a Facebook profile designed to promote a specific individual, idea or product. Pages recommend these things, whereas an ordinary profile simply communicates information about an individual member.

Each Facebook page contains a “report page” button so that users can alert Facebook when pages feature offensive or pornographic pictures, or when content is inappropriate and therefore violates the site’s terms of use. Facebook then reserves the right to remove content or entire pages at their discretion.

However, these measures fail to keep pro-rape content from appearing repeatedly on the site. A survey of Facebook turned up dozens of examples of pro-rape pages up and running on Facebook. The page names tend to be provocative and unambiguous; take for example, one page is titled,”It’s Not Rape if you enjoy it,” and another “it’s not rape if you yell ‘surprise.’Note that some of these pages have more than 3,000 members and/or friends and feature images of sexual violence.

Such pages not only demean women and rape victims, but they are also pose significant triggering risks to rape survivors who might happen on them while browsing through the site.

What can be Done?

Of course, the most obvious recourse available to users is the “report page” button, but since these pages are still on Facebook, users should also develop habits that help them avoid such offensive content. For example, users should

only accept Friend Requests from people they know;
resist opening messages from strangers;
tighten security features so only Facebook friends can view their profile.
reject Event Invitations that look suspicious;
never include personal information, like phone number or address, in their profile.
report offensive content as soon as it appears.

Social networking has changed how we communicate and opened new opportunities for getting to know folks from different classes, cultures and walks of life. Like anything used by vast numbers of people, however, Facebook and other websites like it will find its share of abusers. So it’s important to remember that by following a few simple protective rules, users can enjoy all the benefits of social networking in safety.