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Facebook pulls pages depicting violence against women

After an activist campaign and advertiser boycott, the social network deems any content that glorifies rape or domestic violence as hate speech.

Several Facebook pages have popped up that encourage or make a joke of violence against women, pages like Fly Kicking Sluts in the Uterus, Violently Raping Your Friend Just for Laughs, and Raping your Girlfriend.

Facebook has now decided to take these pages down.

"In recent days, it has become clear that our systems to identify and remove hate speech have failed to work as effectively as we would like, particularly around issues of gender-based hate," Facebook's VP of Global Public Policy Marne Levine wrote in a blog post Tuesday. "We have been working over the past several months to improve our systems to respond to reports of violations, but the guidelines used by these systems have failed to capture all the content that violates our standards. We need to do better -- and we will."

The social network's decision is the culmination of a campaign and boycott by activist group Women, Action and The Media (WAM). WAM kicked off its campaign last week with an open letter to Facebook that spelled out the organization's concerns and listed what it wanted the social network to do to address violence against women -- specifically recognize pages with gender-based violence as hate speech and remove such content.

"We are referring to groups, pages and images that explicitly condone or encourage rape or domestic violence or suggest that they are something to laugh or boast about," WAM wrote in the letter. "Images appearing on Facebook include photographs of women beaten, bruised, tied up, drugged, and bleeding."

WAM cited recent United Nations statistics that show 70 percent of women and girls around the world have experienced violence in their lifetimes. The group argued that allowing such content on the social network added to the normalization of domestic and sexual violence against women.

After sending off the letter to Facebook, WAM and its followers contacted a slew of advertisers asking them to boycott the social network. Fifteen companies, including Nissan UK, Specialty Natural Medicine, and eReader Utopia, agreed to pull their ads from Facebook.

Under Facebook's Statement of Rights and Responsibilities, hate speech is prohibited. The social network actively pulls pages and comments that are offensive to different people's race, ethnicity, religion, or sexual orientation. However, until now, gender-based hate speech wasn't necessarily removed.

In addressing WAM's concerns, Facebook said that it would take immediate steps to halt those pages that encourage or make fun of violence against women. WAM has since applauded Facebook's efforts and will be working with the social network to be part of an ongoing conversation about gender-based violence.

"We are hopeful that this moment will mark an historic transition in relation to media and women's rights in which Facebook is acknowledged as a leader in fostering safer, genuinely inclusive online communities, setting industry precedents for others to follow," WAM wrote in a blog post. "We look forward to collaborating with these communities on actions both big and small until we live in a world that's safe and just for women and girls, and for everyone."