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In politics, Facebook’s ‘community standards’ a weapon

By   /   September 24, 2013  /   Comments

They say that there are three things you never talk about in polite company: Politics, religion, and money.  Three issues that are incredibly divisive, and for good reason.  However, social media is hardly “polite company” by any stretch of the imagination.  In particular, there are groups that are primarily for the discussion of politics.  However, apparently there are those who believe “polite” political discourse includes using Facebook’s community standards to silence the opposition.

Yesterday morning, I logged into Facebook just to find that I had joined a growing list of people who had been temporarily banned by Facebook.  My crime?  Well, here is what Facebook told me had been removed for violating their community standards.

That’s some really abusive language right there.  I mean, unless the missing comma in the sentence is just so offensive that it demanded action immediately.  Now, the individual this was directed to had already called science fiction author Michael Z. Williamson an “angry, hateful misogynist”.  In fact, a second, more vague comment earned the above comment.

It was snide.  I won’t deny that.  However, I fail to see how it’s abusive, especially in light of the insults that were thrown at me in the same thread.

Of course, if it was just me, this would be nothing more than a case of me griping about an isolated incident.

It’s not just me, unfortunately.  Williamson, for example, has been banned by Facebook over a dozen times.  Among the things he’s been banned for include using the following words:

  • chigger
  • niggardly
  • faggot (used in the context of “a bundle of sticks”, which is the correct definition of the term)
  • fag (used as the British slang term for cigarette)

Now, the last two might have been understandable.  The words themselves create a trigger, and almost no one in this country uses those terms except as derogatory term for gays.  However, Williamson wasn’t born in the US.  He was born in England and immigrated.  He’s served in the Army and Air Force and has a pretty good vocabulary.  As Williamson noted after his first ban:

There are any number of “Kill (someone)” pages, any number of racial hate pages actually using the word “Nigger.”  There are pages encouraging violence against women, against liberals, conservatives, blacks, Hispanics, whites, all good for FB, but God help you if you make a JOKE about those kinds of people.
What has happened is that people are using Facebook’s “community standards” as a weapon to silence opposition.  Apparently, some people believe that reporting someone and having Facebook temporarily ban them is some sort of “win”.  Of course, it’s not.
Some people have wondered for a while as to whether or not social media would degrade our ability to communicate.  Personally, I think the jury is still out on that.  Instead, what is happening is that we are losing the ability to debate contentious issues.  Instead of taking changes in the polling numbers as a victory – after all, you’re winning hearts and minds – some now take their victories in “getting even” with someone because they don’t agree.

Political discourse is already in the toilet. Instead of debating issues, there are plenty who seek only to insult and demean their opponents. Yes, some people may indeed be stupid, but you’re not going to win people over to your side by calling them such.  You win people over with ideas.  Even if you don’t win over the person you’re debating with, there are others who are reading that you may.  Unfortunately, too many of these people are more interested in punishing their opponents than reasoned debate.

Of course, Facebook enables these people with their bizarre enforcement of the rules.  Facebook’s “community standards” say the following.

Facebook wants to take a hard stand against bullying.  However, some are using the reporting feature of Facebook to bully opposition into silence.  The Journal emailed Facebook yesterday morning for comment on how they reconcile their anti-bullying stance with the fact that people are using this feature to bully others.  We are still awaiting comment.

To make matters worse, there is no appeals process or opportunity to discuss how something was determined to be inappropriate.  So far, it just appears that any comment directed toward an individual may be sufficient grounds for removal and a subsequent ban.

Maybe someday, we will remember how to discuss issues without resorting to insults like I was responding too, and admittedly we can also do without snide comments like mine.  The real question is, is this indicative of the divisiveness we see in Congress, or is this the root cause of it?

Tom Knighton is the Editor and Publisher of the Albany Journal.

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About the author

Owner / Editor / Writer

Tom Knighton is the publisher of The Albany Journal. In November, 2011, he became the first blogger to take over a newspaper anywhere in the world. In August of 2012, he made the difficult decision to take the Journal out of print circulation and become an online news agency, a first for the Albany area.

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