A court case in Ireland has created the world’s first legal precedent for prosecuting someone for hacking a Facebook status. One of the internet’s common pranks, which is called “fraping” or “Facebook rape” in Ireland, went terribly awry for one angry young man trying to get back at his ex-girlfriend for moving on to a new guy when it resulted in a conviction and a $2,700 fine. The Facebook status he wrote on his ex-partner’s wall was of a sexual nature, labelling the woman as a “whore” and it was this fact that led to the designation of “frape.” But use of the word has created a certain amount of outrage from many, especially sexual assault victims and advocates who believe the term trivializes a serious crime. The fraping case raises issues of internet privacy and rape and has some people concerned that the equating between the two does more harm than good.
A big part of the issue for some critics is the concern that the concept of fraping minimizes the seriousness of sexual assault. The term is common in Ireland and even appears in United Kingdom dictionaries, but it reached a more global scale when one politician used it in a video. Irish Senator Fidelma Healy Eames referred to the issue during a committee meeting to discuss responsible social media practice. Her point was about the sexual nature of some of these messages, which can be quite offensive and bullying. While she may have been trying to get a point across about the seriousness of her cause and do some good for victims of bullying, that may not have been the actual real world effect. Instead, it seems to minimize the seriousness of rape by trying to create outrage about the problem of social media and internet privacy.
There is no doubt that social media bullying is a serious problem, but finding a reasonable line between equating frape with actual rape may be more difficult than it seems. Eames’ explanation of the term was that it was “where you’re raped on Facebook,” which sounds serious, especially if one has never heard the word before, but her statement may have reached too far. The Macmillan Dictionary defines it rather more tamely as “to make changes to someone’s personal Facebook pages without their knowledge or permission” and is probably the more common usage of the term. In that context, fraping sounds relatively harmless (at least in some cases), which adds to critics’ stance that the term minimizes the problem of sexual assault. So does the word fraping mock rape? Or does Eames have a point that this is a serious issue?
Into that discussion comes the Irish court case on fraping. The judge thought that fraping was serious enough to require a fine to be paid in the amount of $2,700. The man who was charged was also prosecuted for the more violent crimes of false imprisonment and rape, but was acquitted. Nevertheless, the fraping remained and did receive a conviction. So does this case prove that fraping is actually as serious as rape? Probably not. This is more a case of an angry ex-boyfriend taking revenge for a perceived slight and in reality, the story could have been much worse. While he was not convicted of rape, such incidents are sadly common. Two-thirds of all rape is committed by someone known to the victim, including partners and family members. This specific court case could very well have been part of that statistic and the coverage of only the social media aspect of it minimizes the severity of the overall problem.
While this case may not help the reputation of the term fraping regarding the issue of rape, it does raise questions about internet privacy. Specifically, it should provoke discussion about the relationship between online bullying and rape. The angry ex-boyfriend violated internet privacy in order to get his revenge, which could be seen as a tamer version of revenge sexual assault. Instead of actual rape, it was frape which is a violation to a lesser degree, but a violation all the same. That seems to along with Fidelma Healy Eames point about the problem of online bullying. There is an issue with people’s internet privacy being violated and their well-being being harmed which deserves recognition and action. Still, perhaps the term frape is not the best way to bring a much-needed awareness.
Manufacturing outrage in order to get something good done is a problematic business. To a certain extent, that is the job of activists and concerned people like Eames. In order to get people to do something, they have to first hear about a problem and then be angry or concerned enough to fix it. That is what the use of terms like frape is meant to do in this context. By equating Facebook hacking with rape, an attempt is made to convey the seriousness of the problem, but that is not what the term actually does. Instead, it creates an association between rape and what can often be a harmless activity of making a funny Facebook status when someone leaves their page open by accident. In that case, privacy has been violated. Internet privacy and the privacy of one’s own body, however, are two very different things and creating a verbal relationship between the two does more harm than good. There are many questions still to be answered about internet privacy, rape and the relationship between the two and fraping might be a good place to start that discussion even if it is an offensive term.
Opinion By Lydia Bradbury