Facebook, are you leaning in?

I was at BlogHer'13 this year, for those who don't know, BlogHer is one of the largest gathering of women bloggers in North America.


Apart from being one of panelists for International Activists, I had the opportunity to meet a lot of keynote speakers in person, not limited to Sheryl Sandberg, COO of Facebook.


The reason I decided to talk about Sheryl as she claims to be a "feminist" in addition to being a businesswoman. In her keynote at BlogHer'13, she said that she believed that it was indeed possible and that after writing her book, Lean IN, she has indeed changed the discourse of conversation of sexism.


Er... OK... maybe that conversation has changed in corporate tech world... but that conversation has not changed for many at all.


So the night before keynote, I posted a question on different forums asking what would people want me to ask, Sheryl Sandberg, when I meet her. This is one of the responses I received;




These are some of the questions we all have and I am glad that Lisa Stone, co-founder of BlogHer, was able to ask the initial question, during Sandberg's interview.


But what was the most disappointing part was the reply from Sandberg.


According to Sandberg, we just need to use the report button .. Ermmm... WOW ... we didn't know that part, did we?


I mean it wouldn't be so bad if something actually happened when we click the "REPORT" button.


I ain't sure what Sheryl Sandberg is trying to do but either she is in complete denial or she was just being dismissive. I found her keynote to be somewhat disappointing!


I am sure she is trying to champion of women rights in the "new era" but this is not 1930s, when rich white women decided that it was time to stroll out of their tea rooms. This is 2013, we have moved past first-wave feminism, we speak inter-sectionality of gender with race, class, sexuality and cyber space.


She calls herself a quote on quote feminist but what we all heard was a businessman who is a COO of a corporate structure.


After her keynote, we were informed that we will be meeting Sandberg during which we can ask her questions. I was not really happy about the keynote speech and I decided that I will ask her about removal of breast feeding pictures & #fbrape in a bit more detail.


Me: "I wanted to continue the question from your earlier keynote speech, where you were asked about #fbrape... you mentioned that the we need to just use the report button... but the problem is this is not working... we know countless incidents where people report consistently and pictures are not taken down.


I am not sure how much you are aware of it because of your position as COO.."


SS: "Oh no, I know everything...


Me: "Well, we have not witnessed any change and this is still an issue for a lot of people. Other than that the breast-feeding pictures...I mean this is important.... BlogHer consists of numerous bloggers who are mothers and they blog about motherhood. Breastfeeding ain't a huge issue for me as I ain't a mom but its an issue for a lot of people."


SS: "Our policies are much more stricter than all the other online forums. There are more than 1.5 Billion users of Facebook and everyone posts all the things all day every day. We have algorithms which take down a lot of online material.


There are people who make offensive comments all the time, e.g. there is a group and its about holocaust deniers and I am Jewish and it offends me but we decided to let it stay for the sake of free speech... if such material ends up being there it also gets criticised by other fellow users.... We have made changes and it might not be working where you are [probably she mentioned that part as I said that I was Pak-Canuck.. *sigh*...]"


Me: ... well we do not see any changes. We are part of groups like "Everyday Sexism Project" where numerous users still rage about extremely violent pictures not being taken down...


SS: You know if you see anything like that... I will give you a number and you can call it.


She basically did not address any part of breast feeding pictures being taken and no proper answer for violent pictures about women.


In the part of my question, I did give her an opportunity to walk away from the whole thing that she is COO and she might not be aware of all the details, she was pretty insistent that "she knows everything".


I guess then she knows everything. At this point, the number I can directly call has turned into an email address. We will see if it will be any useful in progress.


After her mention, "Everyday Sexism Project have said itself that they have seen changes", I decided to ask Laura Bates if this was indeed true...


"Well yes, in so far as we got a public statement from Facebook that they would change their policy guidelines on domestic violence and rape, and we released a joint statement with the other #FBrape coalition members saying that we welcomed that ... but we are still in the process of actually working towards implementing those policy changes to see real change in reality, so it's difficult to say just yet..."


I decided to speak with another coalition member who was spearheading the hashtag #fbrape. Soraya Chemaly said;


"Facebook agreed they'd insufficiently recognized gender based hate in applying their own rules. In response to our request, they pledged to review and revise guidelines and to train people which is what we are working in making sure happens in a systematic way. We approved those steps as a commitment in response to our action. Part of their response was to seek our input, which they are doing. The more we learn, the more pragmatic and implementable we hope our recommendations will be."


I mean, I am glad that they are recognizing that there are errors and they are willing to work on it but its far away from leaning in [at least not at this point].





Ayesha Asghar is a community activist who blogs on sexual violence and racism.


Original source of this blog post: Dance of Red (http://www.danceofred.com/2013/07/facebook-are-you-leaning-in.html)