So it turns out that allowing a private company to manage all of your social interactions has some drawbacks.
A friend of mine on Facebook recently posted an account of all the times she has been sexually abused in her life. She is still a young woman, younger than me, and yet the list was more than a page long. It was exhausting and infuriating to read. I can’t imagine what it must have been like to live through.
The post included dispassionate, clinical descriptions of the acts done. Genitalia were not explicitly mentioned at all. It was a hard read, I’m sure. No doubt made some people uncomfortable. But these things need to be said — for there to be awareness of how pervasive a problem sexual abuse is in our society, women must tell (and be allowed to tell) their stories.
Naturally, this tale of a woman’s suffering at the hands of the patriarchy was reported by someone, deemed “offensive” and “in violation of Facebook’s community standards,” and removed.
This, mind you, is a website that hosts in excess of fifty thousand white supremacist, anti-Muslim, Nazi, and other hate groups. It is home to pages promoting anti-vaccination advocacy, climate change denial, anorexia, pedophilia, anarchist-capitalism, and other toxic and harmful ideologies. But a woman speaking honestly about her abuse at the hands of the patriarchy? No, no, that “violates community standards.”
If that’s the case … I don’t know about you but it’s not a community I want to be a part of.
But it gets worse! Upon reporting to her followers that the post had been removed for “violating community standards,” she was again silenced. Again she had her post removed. This time, it came with a 24-hour posting ban, and a warning that “repeatedly posting content deemed offensive can result in a permanent ban.” Yes, that’s right, apparently even talking about your post being removed and speculating snarkily about who might have reported it is reason enough to be further censored.
Now, sure, maybe it was the “#banwhitemen” hashtag that she put on her post, a hashtag that was introduced around the time a white guy shot up a mosque in Quebec. Or maybe the time a white guy shot up a church in South Carolina. Or was it the time a white guy shot up an abortion clinic in Colorado? I digress. Hate speech? Maybe if you’re using the most obtuse, strict, literal reading of the concept. But then … well, I’m just going to leave this here:
Ordinarily, abuses like this by a service provider can be addressed via protests. Boycotts. But not Facebook. And why? Because Facebook has successfully insinuated itself into every level of our lives. It’s where we talk to our friends. It’s where we read our news. It’s where we schedule our events and celebrate our triumphs and receive support for our tragedies. It’s such an essential part of the Internet’s infrastructure that Facebook can be used to log on to many other sites. Boycotting Facebook would be like being put in solitary confinement, especially for someone like me. And it can’t be argued that Facebook does give us a powerful voice with a broad reach — when we’re actually allowed to use it.
That last bit is the key point. Facebook can and will censor things when it feels they “violate the community standards,” a power which is observably exercised either arbitrarily or monstrously. And so far as I can tell, there’s no appeal — and why would there be? It’s a private organization, and more to the point, they have us by the short and curlies and they know it.
Sure, there are other sites we can go to. Minds, Ello, and Diaspora are three that I’m vaguely familiar with. Google Plus if you want a different flavor of corporate oversight, MySpace if you feel like revisiting the mid-aughts for some reason. Of course, none of these are as widely used as Facebook, and none of them (except Google) come with the extra sign-in privileges Facebook gives you. Tumblr and Twitter do but they aren’t the same thing as Facebook. But none of that really matters — your friends and family are on Facebook. All of them. Some may be in all those other places, but most will only be in some, and your older family? Probably only on Facebook. Your grandparents aren’t on Diaspora, statistically speaking, or even Tumblr — and until “enough” of their friends and family are to make them go through the effort of changing, they aren’t going to be.
Facebook is the de facto community meeting space in the modern Internet. And until and unless a huge mass of people go elsewhere, that’s how it’s going to stay, simply through the inertia of comfort and familiarity.
This is a Problem™
Change requires sacrifice. It requires taking risks. If you are not willing to sacrifice anything, be it your comfort or your pride, nothing will ever change. You must be ready and willing to lose in order to have a chance of winning. This is true no matter what you’re talking about, and it fractalizes out into everything from politics to privacy to starting a business. If we want to change our government, we’re going to have to be willing to vote for candidates who are probably going to lose. If we want to keep our privacy and our voice, we’re going to need to walk away from companies who merrily abuse both.
As I said above, any “community” that is okay with white supremacy but not okay with women speaking out about their abuse is not a community I want to be a part of. And it certainly isn’t a community I want to be selling my privacy to for the “privilege” of being a part of it. Moreover, to allow a private company to control and administer our public forum is to accept the apparatus of quiet censorship.
I invite you to consider your position on the matter and take appropriate action.