It would have been hard to miss the news over the past week; BBC journalists decided to test Facebook’s reporting system by reporting a number of sexually explicit images, mainly of minors, alongside a number of secret Facebook groups used by paedophiles to share images and videos. Facebook failed to take down more than 80% of these images, including the images that appear to be child abuse material.
Facebook’s response has been surprising, to say the least. You can read more here.
As someone who researches around the issue of pornography, I come across a lot of indecent images on social media and have, many times, used Facebook’s report button. Sadly, my experience lines up with the investigation by the BBC. Not a single one of the images that I have reported for sexual/inappropriate content has been taken down; I receive an email saying that “the image does not breach community standards.”
I get angry and frustrated and wish there was a way to appeal the decision. I start to get annoyed and make assumptions about the upbringing of the person who decided this image was okay to be in the public eye! I begin to wonder whether Facebook likes to have sexually suggestive content because it generates more users, more likes and, therefore, more money…
Should Facebook get rid of all the porn?!
All of this aside, what should our response to this news be? Should we pour more resources and energy into more investigations, journalism and laws to ensure Facebook takes this material down? I think it’s important, yes. In the same way that we would expect hotel staff or taxi drivers to report suspected trafficking, Facebook has a similar responsibility in policing the online world and a major part of that is taking each report seriously and ensuring that abusive and explicit material is removed and further reported, if necessary, to enable prosecution or further action.
However, whilst it’s great to see porn in the news again, I am concerned.
My fear is that in focusing on getting rid of porn/making porn illegal/ensuring websites have stricter regulations/better age restrictions etc. we are shifting our focus away from education.
There will always be porn.
Now, don’t hear me saying that in a defeatist way. Not a day passes where I don’t long for a world where porn doesn’t exist! The invention of the internet, however, means that everything that is currently online will be there for a very, very, very long time.
My concern is that we can become so concerned with trying to remove porn from the internet or putting the filters on our computers to block it, that we forget that the most important filters are our internal ones.
If we can develop our internal filters then we realise that we have a choice how to respond when we see these images. Let’s educate ourselves, our friends, our schools and our children to respond well to the images that we see. To empower people to say “no, that’s not okay,” even when it feels like everyone else disagrees.
The reason I spend my life educating people around the harms of pornography and the ‘amazing-ness’ of real relationships is because I do dream that we’ll live in a world where the majority of people choose not to access porn.
A world where people choose real love over porn.
A world where people are so invested in real life relationships that getting a fix from a screen is unappealing.
A world where young people are able to focus on their work, their studies, their futures because their brains aren’t scrambled by excess consumption of explicit material.
A world where people value and respect each other and recognise that pornography degrades and creates unrealistic expectations.
A world where people say no to the junk food version of sex and say yes to real life, real relationships and real love.