Facebook Silences Franklin Graham, Then Backtracks
Why was Graham blocked? Over a 2-year old post? Facebook gave no reason in their apology. But it might have something to do with their dizzying rulebook on identifying hate speech. And ultimately, a culture that calls truth hateful.
Facebook banned Franklin Graham, one of the world’s leading evangelical Christians, for 24 hours, Graham revealed publicly Dec. 28. Why? For a post he wrote in 2016 in support of the North Carolina bathroom bill. Facebook initially said the post violated its community standards on hate speech.
“Facebook is trying to define truth,” Graham wrote in his post announcing what Facebook had done to him. “Truth is truth. 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 also pasted a copy of his offending post.
A Facebook spokesperson stated, “A page admin for Franklin Graham’s Facebook page did receive a 24-hour feature block after we removed a post for violating our hate speech policies. Upon re-reviewing this content, we identified that the post does not violate our hate speech policy and has been restored,” Fox News reported.
“I thank Facebook for their apology and I accept it,” Graham posted in response.
But Why? Facebook’s Solution to Hate Speech is a Mess
Why did Facebook make such a strange mistake?
“It’s not like it was a post you put out yesterday,” a host on Fox and Friends pointed out. “Someone went back to 2016 and made a decision.”
Perhaps a Facebook user recently flagged Graham’s two-year-old post as hate speech. Presumably, that would have prompted a Facebook moderator to review the old post.
This particular situation may be resolved. But it highlights Facebook’s messy process for deciding what kinds of speech to censor.
A recent New York Times report entitled “Inside Facebook’s Secret Rulebook for Global Political Speech” exposed the issue. A worried anonymous employee leaked company documents. The report found that a network of 15,000 moderators, using a maze of PowerPoint slides, make the calls for individual posts. Every other week, a small handful of Facebook employees come up with new rules and send them out to the rest for enforcement. It’s a lot of power over free speech with very little third-part oversight, the author points out. The Times found that the guidelines employees enforce on hate speech “run to 200 jargon-filled, head-spinning pages.”
Calls for Violence on Facebook That Led to a Mob
One of the issues is that Facebook’s algorithms tend to increase the visibility of emotionally charged speech. The more people react to a post, the more others see it.
Earlier this year, false rumors spread on social media. Hate groups spread posts on Facebook calling for violence. “Who wants to sterilize the Sinhalese?”one meme read in the Sinhalese language. A group of Buddhists responded with violence in March, 2018. The mob set fire to Muslim-owned homes and shops in Digana, Sri Lanka, the Times reported. The rioters burned a man to death.
I will not pretend that eliminating hate speech from Facebook is actually a cut and dry process. How can the social mega giant convince its shareholders that Facebook is not out of control? It seems that without policing, algorithms can make violent ideas grow like weeds. To make regulations on removing hate speech, what can Facebook do? It would likely take various experts to be aware of the sorts of ideas and slurs that were typical of the speech leading up to literal violence. Then these experts might have to decide what kinds of speech today follow the same patterns. Perhaps this is exactly what Facebook has attempted.
A Confused Culture
If you define transgenderism as a true category of human, like ethnicity — and not an unhealthy emotional condition — things get messy. In that case, any speech saying transgenderism shouldn’t fully tear apart the “oppressive” societal structures that affirm the reality of biological sex — might well be hate speech.
This process gets further muddied by our culture’s increasing propensity to bend to those who take offense. Some people who identify as transgender say that people espousing traditional views on gender make them feel unsafe. (For example, a student senator at U.C. Berekley was disassociated with every student publication she had a working relationship with. All because students complained that her loving convictions on transgenderism made them feel unsafe.) Should their personal offense silence public discourse on bathroom laws? Of course not. Even Facebook now acknowledges that by making an apology.
In the end, it’s likely that at least one person recently flagged Franklin Graham’s post as hate speech. And for unexplained reasons, a Facebook moderator — armed with 200 pages of guidelines to memorize and enforce — agreed.