In the wake of the #MeToo movement, Facebook is banning female users for posting comments like “men are scum” and “men are trash”—even if the statements are ironic or humorous.
A new article by the Daily Beast looks specifically at women who have found themselves banned from the platform, but the criticism around Facebook’s views of what constitutes hate speech—and who gets punished for it—isn’t new.
As the Daily Beast points out, the sorts of posts that have been removed are innocuous to most people who spend a lot of time on the internet:
Women have posted things as bland as “men ain’t shit,” “all men are ugly,” and even “all men are allegedly ugly” and had their posts removed. They’ve been locked out of their accounts for suggesting that, since “all men are ugly,” country music star Blake Shelton “winning the sexiest man isn’t a triumph.”
It’s been enough to get some users banned from the site—even if the posts were responses to men who were trolling them.
A post like “men are scum” violates community standards, a Facebook spokesperson told the Daily Beast, because the comment is both “an attack and hate speech toward a protected group.” The protected group in this case? Men.
As ProPublica originally reported back in June, white men are considered a protected group on Facebook. But, apparently, this is because “all genders, races and religions” are considered protected characteristics under Facebook policy, the Daily Beast reports.
The Daily Beast identifies a few factors that hinder Facebook’s ability to correctly judge whether a post is truly hate speech or not, the first being that context isn’t taken into account because of “privacy concerns”—Facebook moderators can’t view personal or demographic information about the user; nor can they see whether the user was responding to another post.
“Moderators don’t know whether the poster has a history of spreading messages related to white supremacy, or has participated in targeted harassment campaigns against specific groups before,” Daily Beast writer Taylor Lorenz points out.
This means that hate speech guidelines can be incorrectly applied to jokes, as the female comics in the Daily Beast post found out, or to people reporting racial harassment, as was discovered regarding a Washington Post article from this summer.
In that piece, Francie Latour, a black woman, was banned from Facebook for simply repeating a racist encounter she had at a suburban Boston grocery store, when a white man said of her children, “What the fuck is up with those fucking nigger heads?”
Without looking at the context of these posts, Facebook users, several of them activists, told the Post they’re unable to call out racism or start the kind of difficult dialogues around power and identity. Stories like these raise the question: Of the roughly 288,000 hate speech posts Facebook says it deletes a month, how many were from minority groups reporting attacks upon them? How many were simply trying to use Facebook as a space to confront their anger or hurt about harassment or to simply shoot off a joke about their frustrations?
Then there’s the strange and inconsistent way in which these “protected groups” are defined—or excluded.
ProPublica lists one such example in its piece from this summer. In it, writers Julia Angwin and Hannes Grassegger cite U.S. Rep. Clay Higgins, a Louisiana Republican, and his post about “radicalized” Muslims following a terrorist attack in London this past June.
“Hunt them, identify them, and kill them,” Higgins posted. “Kill them all. For the sake of all that is good and righteous. Kill them all.”
The post—an explicit call for violence against Muslims—was left “untouched by Facebook workers,” ProPublica noted.
But a post from Didi Delgado, a Boston poet and Black Lives Matter activist, in which she said, “All white people are racist. Start from this reference point, or you’ve already failed,” was removed. Delgado’s Facebook account was also disabled for a week—a punishment that several of the women mentioned in the Daily Beast article were dealt after their posts.
The rationale? According to Facebook’s own internal documents, Higgins’ post was allowed to stand because it “targeted a specific sub-group of Muslims— those that are ‘radicalized,’” ProPublica reported, making the comments legitimate political expression. But Delgado’s post, because she had called out white people in general, was deemed hate speech.
Read more at the Daily Beast.