Facebook remains clueless about everything except their dominant mission: make Mark Zuckerberg richer.
The other day, I was reminded of Richard Spencer’s existence. Now that he’s on the radar and media of all stripes know that he gets clicks, all he has to do is show up and get free publicity. Case in point, the NBC affiliate in Charlottesville, VA gave Spencer an utterly uncritical interview, going so far as to include a clip of marchers yelling “you will not replace us,” while cutting out the line directly after, “Jews will not replace us.” I wrote to their news editor, as I’m sure many others did. Fat lot of good that accomplished. As I wrote then, with this kind of interview they may as well just openly endorse him for all the free advertising it gave him.
Reminded of Spencer, I was then reminded of the “think tank” (talk about a misnomer) he founded, the National Policy Institute. I was looking for their website, counting on finding some gems with which to try and embarrass NBC29 and discovered that NPI has no website, but they sure do have a Facebook page. I checked out their Facebook page, which doesn’t have anything overtly rotten posted in plain sight. Nevertheless, I did my civic duty and called Facebook’s attention to the existence of a white supremacist organization using their platform to advance their white supremacist agenda.
If you’ve ever “reported” anything on Facebook, you already know how ungratifying it can be. The most damning thing about the process is that it offers the most simplistic of multiple choice answers, one of which even sounds like the dear Facebook user is merely being whiny and delicate for complaining. In this case, I chose the one indicating I’m whiny and delicate. At no point was there an option to actually provide reasoning for my selection. Click, click, done. But then there was a customer satisfaction survey. What a joke.
So I clicked the saddest face and got a text box for my trouble. At least I was able to include my vigorous disapproval, except I’m sure that bit of text went to a customer satisfaction robot and not to anyone reviewing the heads-up about white supremacists using their platform to advance an agenda of hatred.
Days later I finally get an automated response from Facebook. It is, nearly verbatim, the same, “you whiny bastard” boilerplate I received from them when I reported a page for posting an anti-Semitic caricature of a Jewish person, as such:
It doesn’t take that much familiarity with anti-Semitic prop art to know on sight just what that is and what its usage entails when employed uncritically and unironically. Apparently one of the hazards of being a community standards compliance automaton for Facebook is that one might be historically ignorant and not even qualified to make such a determination. Either that, or the ADL should probably get in touch with them for not understanding the harm and how no “community standards” worthy of being called standards would countenance such a thing.
Here’s Facebook’s reply about the anti-Semitic caricature from July 29:
Thanks for your report – you did the right thing by letting us know about this. We looked over the photo, and though it doesn’t go against one of our specific Community Standards, we understand that it may still be offensive to you and others. No one should have to see posts they consider hateful on Facebook, so we want to help you avoid things like this in the future.From the list above, you can block [redacted] directly, or you may be able to unfriend or unfollow them. If you unfollow them, you’ll stay friends on Facebook but you won’t see their posts in your News Feed.We know these options may not apply to every situation, so please let us know if you see something else you think we should take a look at. You may also consider using Facebook to speak out and educate the community around you. Counter-speech in the form of accurate information and alternative viewpoints can help create a safer and more respectful environment.
Thanks for your report – you did the right thing by letting us know about this. We looked over the Page you reported, and though it doesn’t go against one of our specific Community Standards, we understand that the Page or something shared on it may still be offensive to you. We want to help you avoid things you don’t want to see on Facebook.If you think we should look at something specific on this or another Page, you can report that exact content (ex: photo) instead of the entire Page.From the list above, you can also block The National Policy Institute directly, or you may be able to unfollow the Page. We recommend visiting the Help Center to learn more about how to control what you see in your News Feed. If you find that a person, group or Page consistently posts things you don’t want to see, you may want to limit how often you see their posts or remove them from your Facebook experience.We know these options may not apply to every situation, so please let us know if you see something else you think we should take a look at.
All they left out was the greeting, “Dear Whiny Bastard.” As before, there was no way to respond directly to them to make a case. But there was a customer satisfaction survey. So they got the sad face and this response:
While you were looking over the page for the National Policy Institute and not finding anything worth removing them for, did anyone bother looking into who the National Policy Institute is? Basically, is Facebook saying that as long as white supremacists don’t post anything overtly racist, their branded organizations can still have a platform? Would a Klan page be okay as long as they just shared recipes, even if there were pictures of them and their regalia and the letters KKK were prominent, just so long as those “fine people” don’t drop an n-bomb? You’d be okay with them organizing using your platform, even after we’ve learned that Russians did just that so that armed yokels could show up and harass American Muslims?
Facebook obviously remains clueless about everything except their dominant mission: make Zuckerberg richer. On the bright side, as a radical proponent for free speech, even hate speech, I guess I should only be but so mortified. My one qualm with free speech is that even when it’s free and hateful, nobody owes the hate speaker a platform. Reddit notoriously makes no important distinction on that front. Twitter is hardly any better. And Facebook is clearly part of that club. The only downside is that they get to fulfill the same important role in pushing the limits of free speech as Charlie Hebdo does, but without any of the courage, and ultimately, only for the buck. That is what makes this platform-blessing damning. Anyone suggesting Facebook takes this stance on principle clearly hasn’t been paying attention to Facebook over the years.