Why Facebook, Twitter And YouTube Have An Apartheid Content Policy Problem

Why Facebook, Twitter And YouTube Have An Apartheid Content Policy Problem


When it comes to freedom of speech all things are not equal on Facebook. When some users express their freedom they are censored. Others are free to say what they want, so it seems. Facebook, according to its own policies, when it comes to so-called “hate” speech tends to protect white males over Black children. Is this a form of Facebook content policy apartheid?

The proof is in the evidence. Facebook is banning content or de-monetizing with Black people speaking out against racism and white supremacy. Yet, when white males do the opposite, they are not censored as much. Leaked Facebook training documents show how the tech giant deals with white supremacy, racism–and there is a difference. The documents, which were obtained by Motherboard, were supposedly used to train Facebook moderators on white supremacy following the death of a protester in Charlottesville in August 2017.

Facebook does not have to censor content by law. “A 1996 federal law gave most tech companies, including Facebook, legal immunity for the content users post on their services. The law, section 230 of the Telecommunications Act, was passed after Prodigy was sued and held liable for defamation for a post written by a user on a computer message board,” Fortune reported.

But the company has long had a policy to delete obviously offensive material like child pornography.

According to ProPublica reports, the Facebook documents instruct staff on how to differentiates “between groups such as white men, who fall under a so-called ‘protected category,’ and black children. The latter belong to ‘subset categories,’ which include groups of people whom Facebook would reportedly not protect from online hate speech,” Fortune reported.

According to Facebook, the policies look at verbal attacks against “protected categories” based on race, sex, gender identity, religion, national origin, sexual orientation, and serious disability or disease. “Therefore, Facebook’s guidelines would call for slurs against ‘white men’ (which are based on race and sex) to be categorized as hate speech over offensive posts aimed at ‘black children’ (a group based on race and age),” Fortune reported.

“The policies do not always lead to perfect outcomes,” said Monika Bickert, head of global policy management at Facebook. “That is the reality of having policies that apply to a global community where people around the world are going to have very different ideas about what is OK to share.”

Take a look at how Facebook handled two separate postings by two different users.

Following a terrorist attack in London U.S. congressman Clay Higgins, a Louisiana Republican, wrote in a Facebook post calling for the slaughter of “radicalized” Muslims. He wrote: “Hunt them, identify them, and kill them,’ declared U.S. Rep. ‘Kill them all. For the sake of all that is good and righteous. Kill them all.” Higgins was not banned or censored.

Yet a posting on Facebook by Boston poet and Black Lives Matter activist Didi Delgado was censored. Delgado wrote: “All white people are racist. Start from this reference point, or you’ve already failed. Not only did Facebook delete the post, they also banned Delgado for one week.

The rationale for the different treatment? “Higgins’ incitement to violence passed muster because it targeted a specific sub-group of Muslims–those that are ‘radicalized’–while Delgado’s post was deleted for attacking whites in general,” ProPublica reported.

Eventually, Delgado wrote about the common Facebook censorship of Black activists in an article for Medium titled “Mark Zuckerberg Hates Black People.”

The way Facebook is conducting its self censorship is questionable. And the leaked documents show how. “In one of the leaked training slides, Facebook attempts to spell out the distinction between white supremacy, white nationalism and white separatism, according to the Motherboard. Apparently, praise, support or representation of white nationalism and separatism are allowed on Facebook, but support for white supremacy is not,” CNET reported.

Another person on the losing end of Facebook’s policy recently was Dr. Boyce Watkins, an author, economist, political analyst, and social commentator.  Watkins is also a former member of the finance faculty at Syracuse University.

“Facebook banned me from using the platform for 30 days because I posted an article in which the title got me into some trouble. The article was a factual element of black history involving a game called ‘Hit the coon’ that was played at many state fairs across the country.  In this game, whites would line up and pay money for the chance to throw baseballs at the head of a black boy and make him fall into the water.  We discuss this game in the film, ‘Hidden Colors 4,’” Boyce wrote in Financial Juneteenth.

This incident didn’t sit well with Boyce. He added, “The Facebook ban reminded me of the fact that African Americans tend to receive a ‘double attack’ from white institutions when it comes to the series of holocausts we’ve endured in this country:  Our people are punished with the initial racial trauma, and then we are punished again for mentioning the traumatic experience in public. Facebook should review this policy, since it is fully reflective of the kind of systematic racism we endure throughout society, where whites often force us to ‘sit down and shut up’ when it comes to talk about the past.”

Image: Anita Sanikop


And currently there is no appeals process and they are not even told what rule they broke to have their posts deleted and themselves temporarily banned.

Facebook isn’t the only social media network that censors unfairly.

“On June 8, Twitter, Inc. de-verified Minister Farrakhan’s Twitter account (@LouisFarrakhan) by removing his blue verification badge. While the opposition celebrated the decision, supporters of Minister Farrakhan found it to be a frivolous attempt to derail his social media reach; boldly declaring that he is verified by God and verified in the hearts and minds of the people,” the Final Call reported.

Twitter can remove verification at any time without notice and listed among the reasons for removal include: “Intentionally misleading people on Twitter by changing one’s display name or bio. Promoting hate and/or violence against, or directly attacking or threatening other people on the basis of race, ethnicity, national origin, sexual orientation, gender, gender identity, religious affiliation, age, disability, or disease. Supporting organizations or individuals that promote the above. Inciting or engaging in harassment of others. Violence and dangerous behavior. (Directly or indirectly threatening or encouraging any form of physical violence against an individual or any group of people, including threatening or promoting terrorism. Violent, gruesome, shocking, or disturbing imagery. Self-harm, suicide.),” Final Call reported.

YouTube, some have complained, as well have been harsher on posts by Black users.

Could the discrepancy in the censorship incidents be tied to the lack of diversity at these tech companies? Most likely.

According to CNET,  Ellen Pao, former partner at venture capital firm Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers, wrote on Twitter, “Wow, Facebook product leadership is so white and male. Explains why they don’t understand the problems with their products.”