The Radical Center
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The Radical Center

How Facebook Empowers Bullies, Bigots and Nazis.

Facebook closed several pages supporting LGBT rights and social tolerance claiming the content violates unspecified “community standards.”

The LGBT page Libertarians Concerned presented news and commentary on the rights of the LGBT community and was closed by Facebook after a conservative attacked the page for reporting on the anti-transgender activism of J.K. Rowling.

Editor James Peron said, “It all started when we linked to several articles from the LGBT community about Rowling and her continual snipping at transgendered women.”

Peron started his writing at Chicago Gay Life in the 70s and in 1990 founded a newspaper for the LGBT community in South Africa. He later wrote for Gay Voices on Huffington Post. Peron said, ”We had some police harassment in apartheid South Africa over criticism of the regime but we were never shut down. It took Facebook to go one step further than even the apartheid regime went in regard to our reporting.”

According to Peron, the page posted several links to the repeated incidents by Rowling. He said they were short pieces synopsizing the story with a link to a mainstream LGBT publication. In response a rather vitriolic conservative started posting angry replies. “He accused us of not providing sources, in spite of having the links right there for anyone to use. He decided to call names and make remarks about the gay media being liars.”

In response Peron posted such replies were unwelcomed on the page and the individual would no longer be posting if he didn’t remain civil. “The troll who was attacking us then claimed this amounted to bullying and Facebook’s poorly designed computer system said so as well. At this point all the troll had to do was file more complaints.”

According to Peron the attacker searched the site along with the sister site The Moorfield Storey Institute — named after the first president of the NAACP — and filed two additional complaints. “In one case he took a piece on racism in America which was illustrated with a photo of a Klan member and reported it as hate speech. Facebook then upheld it because their system is so poorly designed it can’t tell when a post condemns racism, which is permitted, or when it promotes it, which violates community standards, as vague as they are.”

In the third case the individual found a link to a story about Nazism and did the same thing because it was illustrated with a crowd of Nazis. Again Facebook can’t tell the difference between promoting Nazism, a violation of standards, and condemning it, which is allowed.

Peron says he doesn’t think it is an accident that both pages attacked promote equality of rights for LGBT individuals and racial minorities as well as immigrants. “Facebook has created a system that allows racists and bigots to shut down pages opposed to prejudice by filing false reports.” CNET reported Facebook policies are “vague and confusing.”

“Bizarrely they will allow hate speech from candidates while banning it for others and then they remove speech opposed to hate instead,” he said. “On one hand they falsely assert they want freedom of ideas and then they shut us down for being anti-Nazi and anti-racist. “

The problem, according to Peron, is Facebook has taken on the task of censoring millions of people but doesn’t want to hire enough individuals to make these judgment calls so it manufactures algorithms to do the job for them. They are too cheap to do it properly and their algorithms are simply not up to the task. Facebook wants viewers to flag content that offends them, but this “results in individuals with hateful agendas targeting pages on minority rights and Facebook empowers the bullies and bigots,” he said.

Propublica reported Facebook repeatedly ignores openly racist and bigoted pages but “some activists for civil rights and women’s rights end up in ‘Facebook jail,’ while pages run by groups listed as hateful by the Southern Poverty Law Center are decked out with verification checkmarks and donation buttons.”

Worse, once supporters of equal rights are targeted through Facebook’s system “users who want to contest Facebook’s rulings, the company offers little recourse. Users can provide feedback on decisions they don’t like, but there is no formal appeals process.” Peron says Facebook acts like the old Soviet Union, but instead of “faceless bureaucrats acting as judge, jury and executioner it’s a flawed, inadequate algorithm and the victim of these attacks is left floundering with no right to defend themselves and no way to appeal these absurd judgments.”

Facebook admits, “We often receive user reports for content that doesn’t actually violate standards or that miscategorize why a piece of content doesn’t meet standards. This is another reason why we rely on a combination of technology and user reports to flag violating content.” They seem to exclude the ideas individuals will report others maliciously and they seem to believe technology can accurately judge content, when it clearly cannot. In most cases the report is never seen by human eyes. And like many prosecutors Facebook seems to think the more actions it takes — whether valid or not — the more they are properly doing their job. Peron said, “this incentivizes them to remove pages without valid reason so they can brag about how they monitor their pages. They are confusing incarcerating the innocent with justice.”

Peron said that for a decade he published his newspaper in South Africa and yet Facebook did to his reports what the apartheid government didn’t even try to do. “That doesn’t speak highly of Facebook,” he added.

Note: If you have suggestions for an alternative to Facebook please leave it in the comments below. I personally know of several dozen pages supporting inclusivity and social tolerance who have been harassed by bigots through Facebooks flawed system, who are looking to close their Facebook pages for an alternative.

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James Peron

James Peron

James Peron is the president of the Moorfield Storey Institute, was the founding editor of Esteem a LGBT publication in South Africa under apartheid.