A few months ago, US based investigative journalism website, ProPublica, leaked internal documents revealing Facebook’s guidelines for dealing with hate speech and abusive language for its moderators in training. These “guidelines” fall nothing short of racist, discriminatory and tone deaf. One example was a multiple-choice question asking the moderators-to-be, “Which group is protected from hate speech?” Among the options were female driver, white men and black children; the correct answer to the question was: white men.
It’s no surprise that Facebook, a company where the top-level executives are cisgender white men and only 2% of its staff is black, would allow hate speech against black children before white men. The real dilemma however, is that the victims of Facebook’s racist policies use it is an outlet to express themselves, organise and build movements for social and political justice. The growing power of social media is undeniable, so Facebook’s rules are not only harmful to freedom of speech, a basic human right, they also exclude marginalized people from using the power of social media to affect meaningful change through social activism.
South African revolutionary socialist political party, the Black First Land First movement’s (BLF) president, Andile Mngxitama, is among the many black activists, globally, who have consistently been discriminated against, racially profiled and silenced by virtue of Facebook’s racist community standard guidelines. The BLF President practically has a Facebook jail cell with his name on it by now. and it takes just a few drops of white tears for him to land back in jail every other week after he’s released back to Facebook society. Just recently, Mngxitama was silenced for 3 days after posting a statement discouraging the unlawful evictions of black people by the neoliberal party, the Democratic Alliance and its coalition partners, the Economic Freedom Fighters, in the Gauteng province.
Facebook relies on users to report content for their moderators to review. So, keeping in mind the type of training these moderators received, where white men have the upper hand by virtue of its non contextual hate speech policies, it’s not difficult to understand why more Black people are often at the receiving end of Facebook’s time-out.
Now the most common and in some instances, appropriate response to racist white establishments that rely on us to survive would be a boycott, and in this case, the words of Zinzi Clemmons come to mind, “They can’t have our words if they don’t respect us”, however, most black activists have built a strong following on this platform. For instance, with movements like BLF and Black Lives Matter, social media is an easy way to communicate with and educate society and the people who look to them for political action. So, to boycott Facebook would be to boycott the hard work they have put in to build their following. It would be to boycott social media mobilization (which has proven to be a powerful method for organizing rallies and marches) and it would be boycotting the right to be treated fairly and without discrimination.
Facebook needs to be transformed from the inside out. Their internal policies are just as problematic as the policies they impose on users. The notion that Mark Zuckerberg and company shouldn’t be labelled as white supremacists because they didn’t intend for Facebook to be a breeding ground for bigotry and racism when it was created is nullified by the fact that at present, their actions and policies are problematic. They are aware of this due to public outcry, and nothing is changing. It’s Facebook’s swift action against posts by black people that challenge whiteness for hate crimes and the actions that they don’t take to protect marginalized individuals from bigotry that underpins their white supremacist ethos.
Black people from all over the world must come together and in the ultimate act of savagery, organize and mobilize against Facebook, on Facebook. To send a clear message that we will not boycott because of all that we’ve invested into growing this platform but will also no longer tolerate being silenced and discriminated against.
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