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Facebook continues to censor black activists

By Thabi Myeni

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 of such 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.

The Black First Land First (BLF) movement’s president, Andile Mngxitama, is amongst 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 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, the BLF president was silenced for 3 days after posting a statement discouraging the unlawful evictions of black people by the neo-liberal party, the Democratic Alliance (DA) and its bosom buddies, the so-called “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, they may have gotten the job because Facebook’s racist conduct resonates with them. They probably “correctly” answered that they would protect white men and not black children or women (from hate speech) during their training.

Now the most common and in some instances, appropriate response to racist white establishments that rely on us to survive would be a boycott, because in the words of Zinzi Clemmons, “[t]hey 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 socio-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 mobilisation (which has proven to be a powerful method for organising 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 co must not 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 flagrant because black activists are not being victimised by their intentions for creating Facebook, they’re being victimised by their actions and policies. 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, organise and mobilise 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.

This article was originally published on the Affinity magazine website.

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