From The Editor: Facebook Slammer, Moderating Social Media

While all of us (well, most of us anyway) would certainly like for the crude and hateful speech that has become common place in public and cyberspace to go away, it is not likely to anytime soon.  Of course there are some actions that we can take to begin the reversal of our devolving into the Land of Haters and one is to shine the light on those corrupting our lives with their filthy mouths and ignorant ideals.  Social media has become both a source for the hate and a source for the addressing of it—but there are some problems with it.  A series of stories by the Washington Post just within the past 24 hours point the problems we face when we try to moderate social media.

The results for Facebook have been mixed and inconsistent at best.

In a story by Tracy Jan and Elizabeth Dwoskin on 31 July 2017 we see exactly the opposite going on that we would expect from Facebook moderation.  In their story, titled A white man called her kids the n-word Facebook stopped her from sharing it, we are given two amazing examples of what is happening not to the haters, but their minority victims.  The first occurrence comes from Francie Latour of Boston, whose 8 and 12 year-old sons, as well as herself, were the victims of a filth riddled racist verbal attack in public.  When she tried to share the experience on her social media page it was removed by Facebook censors.

It would seem that this flies in the face of Facebook’s attempt to create a more welcoming environment for all, in that she should be able to communicate something that upset her and her children.  If not that, then what about the 1st Amendment?  She was not answering back with a tirade of her own merely a “can you believe this!?” edited post which we should all be able to place on our page.  But hers is not a lone case of censorship seemingly gone off track and the next one shows that the Facebook police are using punishment for those breaking the rules…what rules we do not know but the rules.

Case number two from the article involves Zahara Billoo and multiple Facebook accounts that she writes on.  She is the executive director of the Council on American-Islamic Relations, operating in the beautiful city of San Francisco, California; and she posted to Facebook, with the required explanations that it was hate mail, a scan of a handwritten letter sent to a San Jose mosque on the heels of Trump’s victory as president.  The most chilling part of the letter was the line that said, “He’s going to do to you Muslims what Hitler did to the Jews.”  The most chilling part of the story is that the post was removed by Facebook and her accounts locked for 24 hours.

She was in the Facebook slammer.

Over the intervening days of communication, automated letters told her a mistake was made and some instances were reinstated, but on other pages she was unable to get the original post back up—it was still blocked by the Facebook police.  When I first set out to draw people’s attention to the dangers of a Trump presidency, I drew parallels between Trump and two World War II dictators:  Mussolini and Hitler.  I was told by many how wrong I was but I consider this a sad vindication of my position, but vindication nonetheless.  Trump has inspired this kind of hatred and action and it can snowball—thoughts become words, words become actions, actions can destroy lives.

Especially if we do not know it is going on.

Facebook has admitted that the system is rolling on some flat tires at best and is working to fix it.  The article tells us that some 3,000 new moderators will be in place by year’s end; bringing the total to around 7,500.  That, in my opinion, is not enough to keep free speech safe.  After all it was a moderator who removed these comments in the first place!  The system needs to be regulated very closely by Facebook to make sure that when the moderators error it is corrected and the reason is understood by those doing the training and especially those doing the moderating of the moderators.

In a different kind of censorship, the Maryland governor Larry Hogan is being sued by the ACLU for deleting and blocking followers of his public Facebook account.  This flies in the face of both the 1st Amendment and Maryland guidelines covering social media interactions by their government officials.  This story is HOURS old, it broke this afternoon.  (Please read the whole piece by Ovetta Wiggins here:  Md. ACLU sues governor for deleting comments and blocking Facebook users).

The problems of social media censorship will continue.

I would predict that the issue will remain very hard to solve completely, especially when there will always be those who try to skirt the moderation and post inappropriate material.  It will also be a problem as long as organizations like Facebook have less than 10,000 moderators for around 2 billion users, which means who knows how many posts.

It would also help to know the laws of Facebook, but there seems to be no driver’s education book for social media, no rules of the road…yet.

Maybe if we acted like our mother was always looking over our shoulder?  Well, it would work for some of us I guess.


Coming up later this week:

In Opinion:  Part 2 of Betsy’s Report Card

In the news:  The Revolving Door at the Trump Whitehouse


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