Facebook’s “hate speech” suspension only lasted 24 hours. But it may have been the longest 24 hours yet for the social media giant. Evangelist Franklin Graham, CEO of the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association, told the Charlotte Observer that he was recently suspended from Facebook for taking a stand for his biblical beliefs. The offending “hate speech” that shut down Graham’s account was nothing recent. Rather it stemmed from an April 9, 2016 post in which Graham endorsed a North Carolina law that prevents men from being able to use women’s restrooms and locker rooms. In addition, Graham’s post urged a return to biblical principles as a way of life.
The Facebook suspension prompted an immediate flurry of comment from numerous media outlets, including Fox News, the Washington Post and The New York Times. In addition, the suspension was concurrent with a Times investigative report revealing that Facebook maintains a secret rule book for policing—and censoring—Facebook members’ speech.
Facebook moved quickly to remove the suspension, but not soon enough. By the time Facebook restored Graham’s account, the word was out. On December 28, Facebook apologized. A Facebook spokesperson admitted to the Charlotte Observer that Graham was indeed punished for his post. And while the spokesperson is now apologizing for censoring Graham, it’s clear that some of Facebook’s team of 15,000 speech police can censor conservative Christians at will.
Graham says it’s just wrong that his biblical comments would be ever considered “hate speech.”
“Facebook said the post went against their ‘community standards on hate speech.’ Facebook is trying to define truth. There was a character in a movie a few years back who said, ‘The truth is what I say it is!’ That’s what Facebook is trying to do. They’re making the rules and changing the rules,” Graham said.
But he says God’s truth will always be the only real truth. “Truth is truth,” Graham said. “God made the rules and His Word is truth. Actually, Facebook is censoring free speech. The free exchange of ideas is part of our country’s DNA.
Graham reposted his 2016 post, last week, asking readers to judge whether what he said was “hate speech.”
“April 9, 2016—Bruce Springsteen, a long-time gay rights activist, has cancelled his North Carolina concert. He says the NC law #HB2 to prevent men from being able to use women’s restrooms and locker rooms is going ‘backwards instead of forwards.’ Well, to be honest, we need to go back! Back to God. Back to respecting and honoring His commands. Back to common sense. Mr. Springsteen, a nation embracing sin and bowing at the feet of godless secularism and political correctness is not progress. I’m thankful North Carolina has a governor, Pat McCrory, and a lieutenant governor, Dan Forest, and legislators who put the safety of our women and children first! HB2 protects the safety and privacy of women and children and preserves the human rights of millions of faith-based citizens of this state.”
The suspension, however brief, raises serious questions. If Facebook is willing to block one of the most prominent Christian leaders in the world, then what’s next? Graham’s Facebook suspension also reinforces ongoing reports of censorship against Christian beliefs by other social media giants and the tech companies that control so much of the communication and interaction in our world today – companies such as Google, Twitter, WordPress and Apple.
The revelation that Facebook records, monitors, scrutinizes and judges all subscribers’ speech according to a draconian and biased set of secret rules is frightening. It is a direct threat to free expression and an assault on conservative and Christian values. Had Graham’s suspension been confined to his account, Facebook might have been able to say that it was a simple error in judgment. But it was not an aberration. It was a punitive suspension levied according to corporate policy that was, until then, a secret. But the cat, so to speak, is out of the bag.
Christopher Carbone, writing for Fox News, outlined the report by The New York Times that disclosed the existence of Facebook’s rulebook. He said the rulebook was Facebook’s attempt to eliminate misinformation and hate speech. But he noted that the effort was predicated on a “byzantine and secret document of rules packed with spreadsheets and power point slides that gets updated regularly for its global content moderators.”
He said the New York Times showed the social network to be “a far more powerful arbiter of global speech than has been publicly recognized or acknowledged by the company itself.” The Times, he said, discovered a range of gaps, biases and outright errors — including instances where Facebook allowed extremism to spread in some counties while censoring mainstream speech in others.”
The rulebook’s details were revealed by a Facebook employee who leaked more than 1,400 pages of the speech policing rulebook to the Times because he “feared that the company was exercising too much power, with too little oversight — and making too many mistakes.”
Carbone said that Facebook “is trying to monitor billions of posts per day in over 100 languages while parsing out the subtle nuances and complicated context of language, images and even emojis. The group of Facebook employees who meet every other Tuesday to update the rules, according to the Times, are trying to boil down highly complex issues into strict yes-or-no rules.”
Facebook, he said, then outsources the content moderation to other companies that tend to hire unskilled workers. The 7,500-plus moderators “have mere seconds to recall countless rules and apply them to the hundreds of posts that dash across their screens each day. When is a reference to “jihad,” for example, forbidden? When is a “crying laughter” emoji a warning sign?”
In the U.S., Facebook has banned the Proud Boys, a far-right group that has been accused of fomenting real-world violence. It also blocked an advertisement about the caravan of Central American illegal aliens put out by President Trump’s political team.
“It’s not our place to correct people’s speech, but we do want to enforce our community standards on our platform,” Sara Su, a senior engineer on the News Feed, told the Times. “When you’re in our community, we want to make sure that we’re balancing freedom of expression and safety.”
Monika Bickert, Facebook’s head of global policy management, said that the primary goal was to prevent harm, and that to a great extent, the company had been successful. But perfection, she said, is not possible.
“We have billions of posts every day, we’re identifying more and more potential violations using our technical systems,” Bickert told the newspaper. “At that scale, even if you’re 99 percent accurate, you’re going to have a lot of mistakes.”
Facebook’s most politically consequential and potentially divisive document could be an Excel spreadsheet that the Times reports lists every group and individual the company has barred as a “hate figure.” Moderators are told to remove any post praising, supporting or representing any of the people on that list.
Anton Shekhovtsov, an expert in far-right groups, told the publication he was “confused about the methodology.” The company bans an impressive array of American and British groups, he added, but relatively few in countries where the far right can be more violent, particularly Russia or Ukraine.
Still, there’s inconsistency in how Facebook applies the rules. In Germany, where speech in general is more scrutinized, Facebook reportedly blocks dozens of far-right groups. In nearby Austria, it only blocks one.
For a tech company to draw these lines is “extremely problematic,” Jonas Kaiser, a Harvard University expert on online extremism, told the Times. “It puts social networks in the position to make judgment calls that are traditionally the job of the courts.”
Rom 8: 38-39
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