Blaming the victim

It was a bit like ping-pong – reporters, activists, and representatives from civil society organisations in a hot debate on privacy in Facebook.



Some pointed out how Facebook (FB) from its inception is designed to encourage giving up your innermost secrets – or at least your relationship status. That privacy configurations change frequently on FB and it’s hard to keep up or understand the implications of a change. (For example, did you know that now you can’t protect your timeline from being searched)



“Really, it’s my responsibility as a user to be on top of these changes. If I post something I have to know that there are implications to what I decide to publish,” insisted a well-known journalist.



Most were siding with the journalist. At the end of the day, they insisted, you are responsible for your own privacy online. “We all cross the line between personal stuff and work – and we really should have separate profiles.”



“You should organise your friends list, don’t always publish for everyone.”



Still, very few present had actually taken the time to make such a distinction, or even knew how. Which is one of the reasons why Take Back the Tech! Mexico had invited to this secure online communications workshop. Good thing Facebook privacy was one of the planned hands-on sessions.



“My picture was taken at a costume party and a colleague contacted me saying I should take it down, that no decent outlet would hire me if they saw me like that. I hadn’t posted it, but I was tagged in it. And of course it’s my fault for not changing my configuration.”



Is it? You can’t control what people post. One of the positive changes in Facebook’s new privacy configurations is the improved Request and Removal Tool that lets you take a look at photos you are tagged in and makes requesting removal easier. Of course, you can request removal, it doesn’t mean those who have tagged you will take pictures down. And while the tool lets you untag yourself in multiple photos at once, which also means they will no longer appear on your wall, it doesn’t mean the photos or references of you in it will be removed from Facebook. Your photo is just no longer tagged with your ID.



Yet everyone agreed it was her fault.



“Exactly!” said another reporter “Here you’re having a great time at a party, completely drunk, and then someone takes a photo at that’s it! All over Face! You see, it’s your responsibility,” she insisted.



Hmm, your responsibility not to drink? Your responsibility that if you decide to take a drink no one has a camera? “Basically. You have to be more careful.”



Several of the participants are feminists who accompany women who face violence – and they understand about blaming the victim and how insidious it is in so many cultures. “Wait a minute! We can all take steps to be more secure. But there are things we cannot control. I can take a sexy, suggestive picture – or just any picture – and be happy to share it online with my friends, but I have no control over where or how that picture will travel, who will comment on it or alter it. And it’s not my fault. That is not my responsibility. If someone is harassing me online, or violating my privacy and sharing intimate photos, that is not my fault. It is the responsibility of the aggressor.”



If a woman gets catcalled, well why did she dress that way. If she’s beaten by her husband, well she knows what sets him off. If she’s a child, she dressed older or looked provocative. Or, if she didn’t want sex, she should have fought back harder otherwise how was the guy gonna figure it out?



The media plays a key role in keeping these beliefs deeply entrenched in our societies. Focussing on the victim, deriding her for her naivete (stupidly thinking she would be safe in her own home, on her own street, in her own FB profile) and for not taking enough safety measures is so much more appealing than centering on the aggressor and his responsibility. The end result is entitlement. Aggressors learn they are not accountable.



So, yeah, it was just a debate on Facebook privacy. But the victim-blaming applied to the participants’ own actions and those of others, and the assumption that no one, least of all Facebook, has a role in challenging agressors – those were journalists.



Privacy by default design, Facebook! Quit blaming the victim!



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Image by opensourceway used under Creative Commons license 2.0 in Flickr