In the aftermath of the terrorist attack in London earlier this month, U.S. congressman Clay Higgins wrote a Facebook post in which he called for the slaughter of “radicalized” Muslims.
“Hunt them, identify them, and kill them,” declared U.S. Rep. Clay Higgins, a Louisiana Republican. “Kill them all. For the sake of all that is good and righteous. Kill them all.”
Higgins’ post asking for violent revenge wasnt removed by Facebook content reviewers. These are workers who’s job it is to scour the social network and delete offensive speech.
However, when Boston poet and Black Lives Matter activist Didi Delgado posted that “All white people are racist. Start from this reference point, or you’ve already failed” the post was removed and her Facebook account was disabled for seven days.
A recent ProPublica probe of some of Facebook’s internal documents sheds new light on the secret guidelines that Facebook’s censors use to distinguish between hate speech and legitimate political expression. These documents reveal the rationale behind the social site’s seemingly inconsistent decisions. For instance, Higgins’ incitement to violence passed muster because it targeted a specific sub-group of Muslims — those that are “radicalized” — while Delgado’s post was deleted for attacking whites in general.
Over the past decade, the company has developed hundreds of rules, drawing elaborate distinctions between what should and shouldn’t be allowed, in an effort to make the site a safe place for its nearly 2 billion users. The issue of how Facebook monitors this content has become increasingly prominent in recent months, with the rise of “fake news” — fabricated stories that circulated on Facebook like “Pope Francis Shocks the World, Endorses Donald Trump For President, Releases Statement” — and growing concern that terrorists are using social media for recruitment.
While Facebook was credited during the 2010-2011 “Arab Spring” with facilitating uprisings against authoritarian regimes, the documents suggest that, at least in some instances, the company’s hate-speech rules tend to favor elites and governments over grassroots activists and racial minorities. In so doing, they serve the business interests of the global company, which relies on national governments not to block its service to their citizens.