With a letter straight to the top, a group of Marines is demanding that Facebook get a grip on the systemic harassment that plagues its female servicemembers.
In March, Facebook became the epicenter of the Marines United scandal, which exposed a massive online community where users shared often intimate photos of servicewomen without their consent. While such content isn’t limited to Facebook, it has thrived there and continues to do so in the aftermath of the scandal, which the USMC is still struggling to contain.
In a thorough, thoughtfully articulated letter, veteran and Not in My Marine Corps co-founder Erin Kirk-Cuomo calls for Sheryl Sandberg to take a personal interest in fighting the spread of nonconsensual photo sharing and gendered harassment on Facebook:
“We applaud the updates in facial recognition software in an effort to end the sharing of revenge pornography announced by Facebook last week. However, Facebook has been negligent in removing pages, groups, and users, that actively promote nonconsensual intimate photo sharing and incite sexual violence and harassment.
For Facebook leadership to publicize their value to the military family, then ignore its complicity in the misconduct perpetrated by its users is, at best, naive. At its worst, this failure directly contributes to the inescapable sexism that is part of the military culture.”
Sandberg’s interest in gender equality is well established, if at times superficial. As Facebook’s COO, she’s perfectly positioned to put her money where her mouth is — like when she announced the company’s enhanced family leave benefits — but Sandberg rarely wades into Facebook’s messy platform policies around issues like harassment, an area where she could effect real change.
In her letter, Kirk-Cuomo argues that Facebook’s failure to act decisively against harassment against its service members is both hypocrisy and implicit approval of the kind of toxic behavior that’s been allowed to run rampant on its platform:
“In the wake of the Marines United unmasking, dozens of similar and copycat groups have been created. The current screening and reporting process remains largely ineffective. I have heard from concerned users that they have been forced to report these pages multiple times a day for weeks in order for Facebook to review the validity of the claims all while hiding behind automated and couched responses. This slow removal process allows this cancer to metastasize.”
Far from just complaining, Kirk-Cuomo offers specific solutions for containing and eradicating the objectionable content, suggesting that Facebook work more closely with military representatives to “quickly eliminate groups, pages, and users” who share and spread content that violates its terms of service. Facebook has an unfortunate tendency to over-rely on its own vulnerable communities to self-police, yet tends to drag its feet when community members report harassment. Considering the scope of its resources, and how indispensable Facebook can be for military families, it’s unfortunate that female Marines now have to shoulder that burden.
“You said in your book Lean In, ‘We cannot change what we are not aware of, and once we are aware, we cannot help but change,’” Kirk-Cuomo writes. “I am making you aware, Ms. Sandberg.”