(PORTLAND, Ore.) — An Oregon woman who helped create a Facebook page to fight those posting violent and sexual content on the website found herself the target of vicious threats and vile material posted on her page.
Trista Hendren, 38, of Portland, Ore., founded a page on Facebook called “Rapebook,” which aims to flag and report inappropriate and misogynistic content on Facebook. The page focuses on violence against women and children, especially rape.
But her dedication to removing the offensive content caused the people posting it to turn on her, she says, as first reported by ABC News’ Portland affiliate KATU-TV.
“It’s a protest to make people more aware of what was happening [on] Facebook,” Hendren told ABC News. “I have two young kids and I wasn’t political at all and assumed it was a safe, happy place where you were there with your friends and then I realized that it’s really not.”
Dealing with such material is not always straightforward.
The page links that posters flag to Rapebook go to inappropriate content such as pornography, graphic images depicting sexual assault, sexualization of children and photos with rape jokes on them.
As with any potentially inappropriate content on Facebook, if a user wants to flag a photo as inappropriate, a pop-up window asks two questions. The first asks if the photo is about the user or a friend of the user. Then the user can select what their issue is with the image — they don’t like it, it’s harassing the user or it’s harassing a friend of the user.
If the photo is not about the user or a friend, it can be flagged as hate speech or symbol, spam or scam, graphic violence, nudity or pornography or drug use.
Hendren said that child pornography usually gets taken down quickly since it’s illegal, but that it is harder to get other content removed, especially if it’s crude but not illegal.
Facebook said that content that clearly violates their terms is removed, but content that is “distasteful” but not illegal or in violation of the terms has the right to stay up.
“There are a lot of rape jokes on Facebook,” she said. “It’s sad to say that some are worse than others so it’s sad to say you kind of have to pick your battles.”
For Hendren, the battle against ugly content took an even uglier turn when people and groups posting the material targeted her.
They posted hundreds of threatening messages and vulgar photos on her personal Facebook page and the group page. They found her phone number and email address and posted it online, she said.
“They’re pretty scary. They did actually post photos of women and girls being raped in the pictures,” she said. “The message was pretty clear — either shut down this page or we are going to make you pay somehow.”
One message to Hendren on the group page that was viewed by ABC News began, “I’m gonna trace your IP address then come to your house in the night in a possum suit knock you out take you back to my cellar where you’ll wake up hung from the ceiling by meat hooks…”
The rest of the post was graphic and violent.
A fearful Hendren took down her personal Facebook page as well as a blog where she wrote about her children and posted photos of them. The Rapebook page is still up, but Hendren is no longer listed as an administrator.
“I felt like I could spend 24 hours a day every day and it would still be an overwhelming problem,” she said. “This is a problem Facebook needs to deal with. They have plenty of money, they have the technology and they just don’t want to.”
Facebook explained in an email to ABC News that the problem is more complicated than taking down inappropriate content.
“There is no place on Facebook for content that is hateful, threatening, or incites violence, and we will not tolerate material deemed to be genuinely or directly harmful. We react quickly to remove reported language or images that violate our terms and we encourage people to report questionable content using links located throughout the site,” the email said.
“However, as you may expect in any diverse community of more than a billion people, we occasionally see people post distasteful content or make crude attempts at humor,” the email said. “While it may be vulgar and offensive, distasteful content on its own does not violate our policies. We do require that any such page be clearly marked — so users are aware that the content may be in poor taste.”
Hendren still wants to help combat inappropriate content on Facebook, but is relieved to be off the social media site.
“I’m happy to be off of it,” she said. “I don’t hang out with people who think rape is funny. Why would I want to put myself in an environment where that happens?”
Copyright 2013 ABC News Radio
Dan Merica and Sophie Tatum, CNN
AJ Willingham, CNN
Shimon Prokupecz, CNN
Eli Watkins, CNN