It’s been quite a week for me already, because I was thrown in jail and released 24 hours later. I had no counsel, no Miranda rights, and no chance for an early release. However, this wasn’t a literal jail. It reaches farther into society than the place people go when they break our criminal laws.
This was Facebook jail.
I’ve used Facebook since 2009, and despite my sometimes heated political rhetoric and, admittedly, outright troll-baiting, this was the first time I was censored and banned. The alleged offense? Hate speech. Yes, that vague and often indefinable term that nevertheless causes liberals to gasp and swoon.
In the world of the political or societal liberal, any instance of what they believe to be hate speech shows how much work there is yet to do in re-educating the masses about what is deemed unacceptable speaking or writing. It’s an ongoing task because despite their best efforts to police our language and society, people continue to use words they don’t like.
Hate speech changes on a whim, which is why we need self-appointed overlords to guide us toward correct and approved conversations. “Drug addict” is now a “substance-abuser.” “Illegal alien” is now an “undocumented worker.” “Welfare handouts” are “entitlements.”
My offense on Facebook was commenting twice about transgenderism in an accurate and correct manner. Over the weekend, I posted on the threads of conservative friends about the transgender situation, and I received several “likes” for my attempt at bons mots. Fast-forward to Monday morning, when I received two separate warnings that Facebook had deemed both posts “hate speech.” After the second warning, I was put in a virtual time-out penalty box for 24 hours to contemplate the error of my ways.
What scurrilous and insulting lies did I post? Nothing but the truth. The first post was in response to an article about the potential causes of suicides of transgender children, to which I wrote: “Mental illness drives suicide rates, not the refusal by others to play along with someone pretending to be another gender. Transgenderism isn’t a biological issue; it’s a psychological problem.” Scary stuff! Obviously, a person with that opinion cannot be allowed to speak or write in polite society, despite the fact that everything I wrote was 100 percent accurate.
My second comment concerned the confused 17-year-old child known as “Jazz Jennings.” Jennings was born a boy, but he has dressed and expressed himself as a girl for several years, garnering praise from the LGBT community and a show on the TLC cable network titled I Am Jazz. Jennings is quoted as saying, “I want to be the mother of my own child, but I know if I adopt, I’ll also be a great mother anyways and I’ll give them all the love I have inside.” In an sane society, such ludicrous ignorance would’ve been corrected by now, but because a childfeels different about something or another in life, we’re supposed to take them seriously and not interfere. In our modern world, feelings trump facts. Jennings must be a girl because he feels like a girl, and to voice disagreement with his feelings is (yes, you know it’s coming) hate speech. Also, I referred to Jennings as “him” because I understand basic human biology.
In an article posted by a conservative friend on Facebook, Jennings stated that he is going to have his sex organs mutilated to appear female later this month. I responded to the post about the upcoming surgery by writing: “That’s just bodily mutilation, fueled by his mental illness. After his surgery, he won’t be any more of a woman than Bruce Jenner is now.” Again, 100 percent accurate, but also 100 percent hate speech, as Facebook ruled.
I should add that both my posts were in response to comments made by like-minded Facebook conservatives. I didn’t troll liberals to stir up controversy, but I guess they found me anyway.
We know that Facebook is yet another tool that leftists use to censor conservatives, despite what Mr. Zuckerberg claims. We know he’s a liar, as well as a liberal, when he claims they’re just trying to make Facebook a welcoming place that fosters diverse discussion. Baloney. They allow anything with which they agree, and if a liberal protests, which is most likely why my comments were flagged, it’s off to Facebook jail for the offender. What’s particularly galling is that there is no way to appeal one’s banishment from what is currently the largest social network online. The people running Facebook make and enforce the rules, which is their right, but assigning the vague term of “hate speech” to anything potentially offensive to other liberals is disingenuous at best. They slap the label on anything they don’t like, including my posts that challenged the liberal mindset about transgenderism.
So I rode out my time in Facebook jail, commiserating with friends via old-fashioned email because my Facebook Messenger was also turned off during this time, lest I spread more of my “hate speech.” Did I learn anything during my virtual incarceration? Yes. The Facebook admins are every bit as authoritarian and repressive in this digital world as the Gestapo were during their time, but without the spiffy uniforms. Will I modify my speech and behavior? Not a chance.
From January 2018
Welcome to 2018, the Year of Censored Social Media
The limitations of selective censorship and the need for better regulation will soon be apparent.
All thumbs. Photographer: Chris Ratcliffe/Bloomberg
This year, don’t count on the social networks to provide its core service: an uncensored platform for every imaginable view. The censorship has already begun, and it’ll only get heavier.
A 2017 law in Germany obliging social networks to delete hate speech as soon as it’s reported or face massive fines went into effect on Jan. 1 — and immediately claimed its first “victim.”
On New Year’s Eve, Beatrix von Storch, a legislator from the far-right Alternative for Germany party, took issue with a harmless tweet in Arabic sent by the state police of North Rhine-Westphalia, which often communicates in ethnic minorities’ languages. “What the hell is going on in this country?” she tweeted in response. “Do you mean to soften up the barbaric, Muslim, group-raping male hordes in this way?”
On Monday, von Storch’s tweet was gone and her Twitter account briefly suspended. She posted a screenshot of the tweet on Facebook, only to see it struck down, too. Alice Weidel, an AfD co-leader, stood up for her comrade, tweeting, “Censorship! Our authorities surrender to imported, marauding, grabbing, fighting, knife-sticking migrant mobs. Beatrix von Storch correctly criticizes German police for tweeting in Arabic — and is closed down.” That tweet still survives, though, according to the AfD, Twitter has notified Weidel that it received a complaint about it.
If the deletions continue, the AfD is likely to fight them in the courts: Anti-immigrant messages on social media are the primary way the party sustains its support. Before they disappear from Germany’s national dialogue, they’ll shift their strategy to something more amenable to the networks, perhaps even the Aesopian language of Communist-era dissidents. Von Storch is already testing the waters, tweeting sarcastically, “There are no barbarians among the group-raping male hordes. Especially not when they’re Muslims. I find it fantastic that they feel good here and have fun. So?” This turned out to be too confusing for Twitter to delete.
In Germany, the social network censorship debate will be about the definition of hate speech, which the networks will almost certainly interpret as loosely as possible to avoid conflicts with the authorities. Even if forces such as the AfD manage to get their messages reinstated, new offenses are inevitable unless courts move against the law.
Censorship is by no means limited to Germany. In late December, Facebook banned Ramzan Kadyrov, the warlord leader of the Chechen Republic, from its main service and from Instagram, where he alternated between workout videos and patriotic declarations. Facebook explained it had to do so because Kadyrov had just been added to the U.S. government’s sanctions list — an excuse that collapses under the weight of all the sanctioned individuals who retain their accounts.
If U.S.-based social networks expand this policy of shutting down individuals simply because Washington considers them toxic, journalists will have few reasons to applaud. Kadyrov’s Instagram account, for one, was a useful source of information for reporters covering Chechnya.
Of course, Kadyrov still posts on the Russia-based Vkontakte, a reminder that it will be nearly impossible to fully silence someone in the age of social media. But the platforms themselves lose their meaning in such a world. They make far more sense when literally anyone — a German racist, a Chechen near-feudal lord — can say whatever they want. If there’s going to be author and message selection, why not just use traditional media, where the writing is better and professional journalists have already combed the different raw information channels? We’re definitely allowed to quote the AfD messages that Twitter and Facebook feels they must remove, and even U.S. media can publish Kadyrov’s statements despite the sanctions against him.
As a media industry worker, I resent the unfairness of competing with social media. They seized the advertising market by making questionable promises about their audience size and by reusing and recycling our content without paying for it. I welcome any development that levels the playing field. But while censorship makes life harder for them and thus helps professional media, there are far better kinds of regulation.
There’s a growing body of research that shows the internet platforms’ business models are conducive to the spread of fake news, as well as hate speech. Regulators should resist the urge to waste time on individual cases in Germany and elsewhere and instead of strike at the fundamentals of the problem: anonymity. Without it, the Facebooks of the world would have a far more difficult time inflating user numbers, avoiding legal responsibility for published content, and continuing to make money off content they don’t help create. The limitations of selective censorship and the ability of paid trolls and dedicated activists to bypass it will become obvious this year — and so will the need for better ways to make sure the social media companies join the ranks of responsible media.