I didn’t notice it at first. After all, when I first gained an appreciation for the way a gif so easily conveys a response I was just laughing along with everyone else. It was such a natural progression — the evolution of the static internet meme — memes that move! Like everyone I soon had my favourite gif go-to’s.
“Winning!” … Charlie Sheen of course.
“You can-NOT be serious” … yep, tennis dummy spitter John McEnroe
“You can’t handle the truth!”… ah-duh, Jack Nicholson, obviously.
The facepalm of hopeless disappointment … Ryan Reynolds, you know the one — from The Proposal. So cute.
And on the topic of Ryans, who does the “how embarrassing” giggle better than Ryan Gosling! Amirite?
But, after a while of using the same old tired gifs to convey my personal feelings — love, disdain and everything in between — I decided I wanted my gifs to be more representative of, well, me. And that's when I noticed something.
Take a look at these screenshots of the options when typing in common search terms like “yes”, “clever”, “indeed”, “hilarious” ….
You’re seeing it right?
Well, just in case you’re not convinced I thought I’d dig a little deeper. Try something, you know, evident of being able to think in multi-syllable contexts. I do after all have a female brain. Here’s what I found with some random but common phrases which I felt would be gender-neutral and remove any potential bias:
You see it now don’t you? Men. A sea of male representation, interspersed with cute animals, expressive kids, and the occasional woman (and I should mention, these are a few of many screenshots with the same male-dominant result but, in the interest of limited screen real-estate, I’m only sharing a few). Remember my list of original gif go-to’s? Yup, all male. Coincidence? I think not. Internalised male bias?… I’m so ashamed.
So. Facebook, it seems we’ve got a problem. Your gifs are overwhelmingly androcentric. Or, to use more common vernacular, sexist AF!
Now, we all know that social media is a cesspit for gendered violence and harassment. I have an inbox full of uninvited messages from random men to prove it… and a restraining order on one particular fragile man I’ve never met who was stupid enough to harass and threaten via his real account (rare). But, while we all focus on the very important aspect of overt online misogyny and threats of physical harm we are missing the covert one, the one that renders us invisible and subconsciously coerced into using men, animals, and children, to represent our adult, female views. Essentially Facebook, you’re reinforcing male dominance, and that’s not cool.
Facebook…your gifs are overwhelmingly androcentric. Or, to use more common vernacular, sexist AF!
Rendering women invisible with such subtle male bias is not new in our male-dominated world. Caroline Criado-Pérez gets right into it in her award-winning book, Invisible Women: Data Bias in a World Designed for Men. Look it up, it’s a fascinating — if not infuriating — read.
Thirty-one years on from the creation of the World Wide Web, Sir Timothy Berners-Lee saw the issue so glaringly that he felt compelled to pen an open letter addressing it. This was his declaration: “the web is not working for women and girls.”
I read the letter back in March. At that time, fresh from being the victim of the aforementioned gendered violence, I was focused on the issue of my physical safety. It was validating to hear Berners-Lee (the man who “unleashed the beast” so to speak) state, with no uncertainty, that online male violence — what I like to call misogyny trolling — was finally being recognised as a serious global problem.
Having identified Facebook’s gender discrimination I returned to that letter. This time a different part struck home;
“Other forms of online discrimination against women remain hidden… If properly designed, they could make the world fairer. But too often, algorithms reproduce and even deepen existing inequalities.”
He goes on to describe the digital gender divide as;
“a growing crisis” that “risk[s] expanding discrimination at a speed and scale never seen before.”
As well as my private collection of messages from the manosphere evidencing the dangers women face on social media, I’ve also begun to take note (and amass) a decent amount of evidence of a more subtle, yet just as pervasive, form of gender discrimination — which for many of us has probably gone unnoticed because we’re all so conditioned to see this bias as normal.
Take for example my friend's recent three-day stint in Facebook Jail for these two incredibly hateful (not) words.
And juxtapose it with this comment on a reproductive rights thread:
Which I reported, and then got this:
Note Facebook’s own admission; “technology reviewed your report”.
Technology found the words “men suck” not only warranted removal as hate speech but also worthy of punishment in the form of being silenced for three days. That same technology did not find a sexualised slur directed at a woman even remotely in breach of its community standards, and it wasn't removed even after requesting a review. At least they thanked me for “helping to keep Facebook safe and welcoming for everyone.” … cue John McEnroe gif right here!
Caroline Criado-Pérez had this to say;
“One of the most important things to say about the gender data gap is that it is not generally malicious, or even deliberate. Quite the opposite. It is simply the product of a way of thinking that has been around for millennia and is therefore a kind of not thinking. A double not thinking, even: men go without saying, and women don’t get said at all. Because when we say human, on the whole, we mean man.”
Tim Berner-Lee has put forward a plan to address this crisis of gender discrimination. Part of the plan includes embedding ‘gender equality by design’ demanding that governments and companies, as signatories to the global ‘Contract for the Web’, must create all products, policies, and services based on data and feedback from women of all backgrounds.
The question is, will Zuckerberg comply?
If the 2010 biographical film, The Social Network is anything to go by, I’m not holding my breath. Zuckerberg may deny the origins of Facebook as a tool for frat boys to rate the attractiveness of female students, but I’m getting a strong sense of Schrödinger’s Douchebag in that.
One more thing…
It just so happened I was in a “who’s the best James Bond” discussion the other day and in the interests of gender equality decided I really should objectify Daniel Craig. You know, that sexy scene of him coming out of the water with “those” swimming trunks on. Like every good writer, I opted to “show, not tell”…
No. There’s no covert sexism on Facebook is there? No subtle male bias?
No, not at all!
There’s also no gif of Daniel Craig in those swimming trunks, and Facebook, we have a problem with that too!
Read more of my thoughts on the dangers women and girls face on social media and the most powerful way to address it:
© Sarah J. Baker 2020. All Rights Reserved.