How we were able to remove Facebook groups victimising women through creating "Fake Avatars": A success story


While 25th November is celebrated as international day for Elimination of all forms of discrimination of women, I got to see the internet being flooded with “orange the world” messages. This is the particular term taken up by the United Nations to spread awareness about elimination of violence against women and inspired by UN, many stakeholders use #Orangetheworld to express their concern, share experiences and vows to fight against all forms of violence against women. I follow the rest here. I have never opted for any particular app to show my solidarity with any cause including that of Nirbhaya rape case when many men and women opted for showing black spot in their profile picture, judgements on 3rd gender case which motivated many to opt for rainbow coloured profile or even the recent Paris attack when many opted for French flag colour. This year, when the UN first started their #orangetheworldcampaign, the social media spread the colour. I changed both my Facebook and Twitter profiles to stand as one of the millions of ambassadors of the campaign. But did the Convention on elimination of all forms of discrimination against women, which advocates to stop violence against women, really prove beneficial to women especially for online violence cases? We need to consider the issue again and again. 
Couple of days ago a responsible citizen contacted me showing some Facebook links. These were of groups where adult women’s photos were randomly selected, posted and they were made to be “fake avatars” by adding extremely vulgar, indecent sexually explicit comments. These women were picked up mainly because they looked beautiful and had attractive physical structures which were enough to motivate these perverts. Some photos indicated that they may have been parts of promotional photos of television serials or modelling contracts; some were taken from beauty pageants as well. I was not contacted by any women or any of these victims or any women’s group.  The person who alerted me was a man and I salute him. When he came across these groups, he tried to report the groups, the images and the posts attached to the images which actually made these photographs typical fake avatars, rather sex-items. Facebook did not take any action. The main reason for this was, these victims were not children and Facebook did not recognise these posts as offensive. Here I must recall my meeting with child right activists, women’s right activists and transgender right activists at the meeting on Porn Panic Ban conference organised by Point of View and Internet Democracy last month at Delhi.  I was invited to speak about indecent representation of women on internet and I shared information about my work. I used this opportunity to learn about other’s experiences as well.  I got to know more details about the recent sensational case of Manikanta Prabhu, who was arrested for creating Facebook group with images of children and posting violent, sexually explicit messages about these children. This case and the case that I recently dealt with, are quite similar with only one difference: in my case, the victims are adults and in the other, victims were children. The noted child right activist who was incidental in moving the courts and making the accused get arrested in the later case, told me that Facebook refused to recognise the harmful language that were being posted targeting these children because these were mostly in vernacular language. The activist had rightly approached the court against such action of the Facebook.  While dealing with the case relating to adult women, I took note of the experience shared by the activist and mobilised support to report these groups as Facebook may respond to larger volume of reports. However, our  collective attempt remained unsuccessful.
It was only later that Facebook officials responded to my reports and mails and made me understand how to report such indecent representation. While from my side, such groups and posts were reported as ‘harassing’, seeing the images and the language of the posts, the post reporters who came up to support me, reported the same to Facebook as ‘nudity’. But ‘Nudity’ may have a completely different meaning as per Facebook ‘offence vocabulary’. Here lies the difference between Indian understanding of the term nudity and digital technological as well as western understanding of the term nudity. As such, the volume of the report grew basing on reports on ‘nudity’ and not ‘harassment’. As the officer from Facebook had told, these posts which present indecency in their overall presentation must be reported as ‘harassing’.  I feel extremely happy to say that finally these groups as well as the offending comments were restricted and were taken off by Facebook. This would not have happened unless Facebook considered my reports and again, renewed reports. This should be therefore noted that while Facebook or any other social media may not respond to reports positively, we need to understand the offence- related perspectives of the social media as well. However, it is an obvious fact that social media including Facebook and Twitter need to improve their own understandings and policies in such issues.  When we speak of ending violence against women in all forms, we need to understand that all stakeholders must act together to bring out a fruitful result.  I am anticipating that such groups may resurface on Facebook again because Facebook or any social media in that case, does not and cannot bar any individual from coming back to create another new identity with yet another set of false information.
Let us be prepared to fight such online harassment against women in a positive way.  
Please Note: Do not violate copyright of this blog. If you would like to use informations provided in this blog for your own assignment/writeup/project/blog/article, please cite it as “Halder D. (2015), “How we were able to remove Facebook groups victimising women through creating fake avatars: A success story
, 26-11-2015, published in

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