The FACEBOOK organization announced last week that they were banning what they characterized as “dangerous” voices from their social media platforms. Notable among the persons targeted was Nation of Islam leader Louis Farrakhan. The well-known Minister was excluded because of long-standing claims that his views are anti-Semitic.
The move was quickly denounced by a wide range of Farrakhan supporters and free speech advocates, including the National Newspaper Publishers Association (NNPA,) a trade organization representing more than 200 Black-owned publications. Rapper, TV personality, and Martha Stewart buddy Snoop Dogg was among the first to denounce the FACEBOOK action. The Dogg called for his 31 million Instagram followers to “…post your favorite Minister Farrakhan video on your Instagram and Facebook page. Show some love to a real brotha’..” This may lead to further confrontation since FACEBOOK policies prohibit followers from voicing support for banned people on its platforms.
Caucasian/Christian Minister Father Michael Pfleger, pastor of St. Sabina Church in Chicago also denounced the action, saying that he would “take a bullet” for the Muslim leader. He is planning an interfaith rally to protest the banning.
Minister Farrakhan was the only one of the banned with no ties to what has been called extreme right-wing media. The other persons targeted included Alex Jones, Paul Nehlen, Milo Yiannopoulos, Paul Joseph Watson, and Laura Loomer. Yiannopoulos and Jones are among the most well-known, although the banned right-wingers all have significant followings in the white supremacist community. Jones heads the “Info Wars” website and Yiannopoulos worked for Breitbart news, which was edited by former Trump administration insider Steve Bannon. Nehlen twice failed as a white supremacist candidate for Congress from Wisconsin.
A statement released by a Facebook spokesperson (not Mark Zuckerberg) said, “We’ve always banned individuals or organizations that promote or engage in violence and hate, regardless of ideology. The process for evaluating potential violators is extensive and it is what led us to our decision to remove these accounts today.”
FACEBOOK has argued that they are increasing enforcement of pre-existing codes of conduct and not creating new rules. But, as the above statement demonstrates, there doesn’t appear to be an objective standard for what constitutes danger, hate speech, or extremism. The decision criteria include factors such as whether the person/organization advocates violence against racial, ethnic, or religious groups and whether their mission statement uses hate speech.
Although a private business and not a government entity, the popularity and widespread use of the Facebook platform has led to questions about the internet “free speech” rights of the site’s participants. Critics of the move have pointed to the absence of left wing groups in the first group of bannings. They call the actions improper “censorship” in that no specific group, race, ethnicity, or person had been explicitly targeted for violence. The absence of an appeal/due process mechanism can also be seen as unfair. Minister Farrakhan’s social media coordinator complained that the banning was announced to the press before the actual account holder was informed.
The world wide reach and influence of FACEBOOK is tremendous. With over two billion users, it is the most popular social media platform by far. And President Trump has repeatedly demonstrated how Instagram can allow one to leapfrog the mainstream media and deliver your message, true or false, with no interference. Will mega-billionaire Zuckerberg become the decider of what’s fit to
Many of the recent white nationalist killings have been associated with hate speech over the internet. The 2016 presidential elections have shown how social media platforms can be manipulated by foreign government cyber warfare. Concerns have been expressed about the sale or theft of user personal information. Add to these concerns the private sector censorship worries these bannings raise.
Is the bloom off the social media platform rose?
And of course, if advocating violence is a social media no-no, when will President Trump be censored and his twitter account disabled?