What happens when someone threatens you with sexual violence on Facebook? You’d hope that Facebook would take the threat down and block the abuser. However, it turns out that it’s not quite what happens. Many people I know have had their accounts blocked when they brought attention to threats of violence that they or someone they know have received. This is probably because of the way posts are checked. It’s not possible for humans to do it, so this is done by a bot. The other way Facebook blocks a user is when a lot of people report the user’s content to be abusive.
Pranaadhika Devburman posted on Facebook so as to draw attention to the arrest of Agniswar Chakraborty for posting a rape threat to one of her friend. Devburman shared two posts with the same text, taken from Kolkata Police’s post about arresting the man which also had his details including his address. The only difference was that in one she wrote “confirmed” and in the other, she wrote, “we did it”. Facebook’s bot had a strange reaction to these and apparently what Devburman posted did not match with Facebook’s community guidelines. The reason was that Chakraborty‘s home address was mentioned in the post.
Previously, Devburman was blocked for five days because she posted on Facebook- “I received a rape threat.” This time she’s been blocked for 30 days. It turns out that she isn’t the only one. Several people have said that they’ve been blocked, either because they posted someone else’s violent threat or because trolls decided to report them. Thus, it seems like when one is trying to bring attention to the abuse, they are silenced. Perhaps, it’s time that social media learned to differentiate between the attacker and the victim.
Online threats are a reality for most women in the world and unlike threats to men, threats to women are of sexual violence. It has become a huge issue which has prompted women to boycott Twitter. Activist Sanyukta Basu feels, “Ordinary citizens are silenced because it doesn’t matter whether one violates Facebook’s community standards, they could still get blocked when several people get together and report a post.”
Policies need to be made that don’t silence voices. However, as in the offline world, this too seems more like a dream than a reality. There are many passionate speeches being made on women’s safety. But isn’t now the time we hold our social media platforms more accountable, the way we hold our leaders?