2M dads, husbands, BFs, classmates
It has been an infuriating couple of weeks for women in the Philippines as efforts to crush the “Pastor Hokage” groups on Facebook have barely made a dent in their revolting subculture.
These pages, taking on names such as “Bible Study of Pastor Hokage” and “Breezy Hokage,” are growing private communities that collect and distribute pornographic material. If that sounds like usual internet fare, take stock of the fact that among the material they trade are revenge porn and suggestive photos of presumed minors. And they are on Facebook, the very social network that you, your parents, and your little siblings use every day.
A quick overview of how these pages work is enough to send chills down your spine. Members, who call themselves “pastors,” are encouraged to post their “ambag” or contributions, which can range from a woman’s cleavage-showing selfie to a hardcore porn video. Original content is hailed, that’s why there are plenty of photos and videos of normal girls, many unwitting, all offered in a meat market where the only payment requested is a comment saying “Amen.”
There are more nauseating details, such as members engaging in sexually explicit group chats and creating their own lurid lexicon (the group chats, for instance, are called “lapagan”).
But as these groups started getting flagged and removed from Facebook, they have shown one more characteristic that made them so much more disturbing: They simply refuse to stop.
Concerned social media users have been reporting such groups to Facebook, citing sexually explicit content and harassment. The website has responded by taking down some of the offending pages, but instead of dwindling in number, the groups shape-shifted and proliferated. Now, there are dozens and dozens of these communities, using variations of their earlier names and exploring other platforms such as private group messaging.
Even more disconcerting is that members of these groups are not at all hesitant to push back against those trying to take their pages down. “Nasa demokrasyang bansa tayo… Ito kasing gagong to, di alam yong ibig sabihin ng privacy,” posted one member in response to Koko Rodriguez, one of the more active challengers of the depraved secret groups.
The people in these groups fail to understand that democracy and privacy are no excuse for the sick, likely criminal, level of objectification in which they so shamelessly engage. And if they can’t grasp that, if they have no concept or respect for human dignity, if they are too dumb or deranged that they cannot even perceive that their behavior might be against the law, how can women ever feel at ease?
Esquire Magazine, which published one of the first reports exposing Hokage groups, found that the largest of these communities has 2.9 million members. Others have racked up tens of thousands. “Some are proud fathers of young children, whose profile pictures are family photos, and some are husbands or lovers of women who probably don’t know the full extent of what their men do on the Internet,” writes Miguel Escobar in the report.
Two million fathers and husbands and boyfriends and classmates. Two million and counting; two million proliferating like insidious fungi on a social platform that’s too close to home. How can women ever feel at ease?
If these Hokage pages prove anything, it’s that we are not done protecting women and children—groups that are vulnerable to sexual objectification, harassment, and abuse.
Facebook has 4,500 content moderators around the world filtering out offensive content, but they are currently no match for the millions-strong “pastors” and their ability to adapt. Within the Philippines, there are law enforcement agencies tasked to handle online offenses, but the National Bureau of Investigation and other offices have yet to bare teeth when it comes to these Facebook groups.
For now (we hope, at least), the rest of us are left to wage the war by ourselves with only the Report button as our weapon. God forbid we crumble under the force and hubris of these “pastors.”
We may shiver at the thought of victims whose photos are being feasted on without their knowledge, or of young girls suckered into a world of exploitation. We may never rest easy when the perverts lash back at us. But we’re far from done; we need to keep up the fight, and that Report button is always just a click away.