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Hate speech has always been difficult to define. Facebook, caught with its fingers in the cookie jar of our private information, has decided that teaching us what hate speech means is sufficient penance. But penance or contrition isn’t something Mark Zuckerberg understands. Giving us at long last a glimpse into Facebook’s mysterious Community Standards is MZ’s way of saying, “Okay. We stole your information, so here’s what we’ll give you.”
As if this is a business exchange.
Which it most assuredly is not.
For years, private individuals have reported anti-Israel Facebook pages that threaten Jews with violence and death, and defame the Jewish people in coarse and disgusting ways. The response from Facebook support has always been: we reviewed your report and determined that this page/content does not violate our community standards.
But we were never told what those standards were.
As far as we were concerned, a page called Death to Israel, for instance, violates ALL standards of permitted speech and human decency, leading us to believe that Facebook’s Community Standards were no standards at all.
Even worse, when trolls would report pro-Israel advocacy pages, Facebook would accede to demands to censor the pages or close them down. It seems that Facebook had initiated a concerted effort to bolster anti-Israel voices while squelching those of the pro-Israel community. This repugnant policy smelled all the worse for the fact that Zuckerberg is Jewish, if in name, only.
After a while, we discovered a go-around: that if enough people reported those awful antisemitic hate pages, Facebook would usually take them down. But then they’d go right back up, a few days or weeks later. They thought that once we won, we’d stop paying attention and they could allow those pages to tiptoe right back in.
It is a disgusting, disheartening experience that mirrors the process by which trolls are able to keep pro-Israel advocates endlessly in jail.
Now Zuckerberg is at long last being called on the carpet to come clean. In a statementhe issued prior to his testimony before the Senate Judicial Committee, the guy admitted he was only reassessing Facebook’s hate speech policies because the media was on him like white on rice.
“… it’s clear now that we didn’t do enough to prevent these tools from being used for harm as well. That goes for fake news, foreign interference in elections, and hate speech, as well as developers and data privacy. We didn’t take a broad enough view of our responsibility, and that was a big mistake.”
In other words, it was a mistake only because he got CAUGHT.
One result of this was this release explaining, at long last, Facebook’s Community Standards. Here’s an excerpt from the section that defines hate speech:
We define hate speech as a direct attack on people based on what we call protected characteristics — race, ethnicity, national origin, religious affiliation, sexual orientation, sex, gender, gender identity, and serious disability or disease. We also provide some protections for immigration status. We define attack as violent or dehumanizing speech, statements of inferiority, or calls for exclusion or segregation. We separate attacks into three tiers of severity, as described below.
Sometimes people share content containing someone else’s hate speech for the purpose of raising awareness or educating others. Similarly, in some cases, words or terms that might otherwise violate our standards are used self-referentially or in an empowering way. When this is the case, we allow the content, but we expect people to clearly indicate their intent, which helps us better understand why they shared it. Where the intention is unclear, we may remove the content.
We allow humor and social commentary related to these topics. In addition, we believe that people are more responsible when they share this kind of commentary using their authentic identity.
While some welcomed this attempt to finally lay out for us what Facebook deems hate speech, this document did not at all explain why a page called Death to Israel is allowed to stand, while a page that expresses love for Israel, is not, the minute a troll reports it.
I tend to be courteous on public fora. I avoid coarse language, bias, and bigotry. To the best of my ability, I don’t use insulting language. This approach has served me well. I’ve been in Facebook jail exactly once, and that was years ago, for a comment I shouldn’t have made, calling out a woman for claiming to be a Jew when she had privately admitted to me she was not. I embarrassed her. And I got the equivalent of a Facebook slap on the hand when the woman reported my comment.
Imagine my surprise then, when one week ago, out of the blue, I go to Facebook and confronting me is this text:
This post goes against our community standards.
Only you can see this post because it goes against our standards on hate speech.
Under this was a comment I only vaguely remembered from some years ago. It was a reply on a thread and it read:
Seeing things through rose-colored glasses is also discrimination-an idea you’ve come to with no proof-a generalization about an entire people. You actually don’t know that most Arabs are not terrorists and neither do I. I don’t make generalizations one way or the other. Because it is wrong to do so when you don’t know it for a fact. It is misleading.
I am not frightened of Arabs because I see all of them as terrorists. I am not discriminating against them. I am frightened of Arabs because of Arab terror. It is prudent to be cautious, realistic, considering our reality.
At the bottom of the comment was a button reading: “continue.”
When I went to the next page, there was an explanation that I probably didn’t know enough about Facebook Community standards to realize that this was hate speech, so they were hiding the post, as a kind of first warning. Only I would be able to see it. That is if I wanted to. If I wanted to dig through years and years of hundreds of thousands of comments to find it.
Not that anyone else would be digging through hundreds of thousands of comments to find it either. Although clearly someone in a cubicle at Facebook is busily perusing my comment history, scouring it for something, anything, that would offend the unfathomable Facebook Community Standards.
I would like to say that this little lesson from Mark Z. illuminated everything I needed to know about hate speech. I’d like to say that I learned something about being polite on a public forum, about being a kind, moral, and loving person. But reviewing the comment deemed by the Facebook powers that be as “hate speech,” I’m left more confused and upset than ever.
What I wrote was not hate speech. It was the opposite of hate speech.
I don’t hate Arabs. I don’t love Arabs. I am cordial to Arabs in stores and in public places and count some Arabs among my friends. But I also fear Arabs.
Which is not the same as hate.
The other night, my husband and I drove to my son’s army base in an out of the way settlement, which had years ago suffered a brutal infiltration and terror attack. We didn’t know our way around and it was night. We waited until a Jewish resident was traveling the last several miles up the lonely highway to the settlement and tagged along behind.
At one point, two cars with PA licenses passed us, one on the right and on the left. My husband thought they were about to do a pincer movement to create a barrier on the road that would trap us, so they could attack us and the Jewish family car ahead of us. It was just a split second and then the Arabs in those cars appeared to reconsider and drove on, leaving us unscathed.
Did we imagine it? I honestly do not know. What I do know: we had to be ready. Things like this can and do happen in Israel. And it isn’t Jewish Israelis that do these things, but Arabs. Arabs like the men in these two cars. In the dark, we had very little information to go on.
In the back of our minds, we must always be cautious in our dealings with Arabs we don’t know. It’s not about hate. It’s because of actual things a significant number of Arabs have done to Jews in Israel.
I try to be fair. I try to be open in my dealings with all people, no matter their ethnic identity or color. I don’t hate any people as a group with the exception, for instance, of known terrorists. My fear on that road was a reasonable fear and it was not even a little bit powered by hatred.
With the lecture it gave me on the comment it hid, Facebook taught me exactly nothing about hate speech. What it did teach me is that Facebook is running around in circles to continue in its Big Brother ways—making arbitrary and thoughtless rulings on the limits of free speech.
What a shame to waste all that power and influence when Facebook arguably could have been a force for good.