Tuesday, January 30, 2018

Facebook jail on bread and water: the problem with gratuitous speech and implicit content (when mimicking Donald Trump)

On Sunday, a Facebook friend got suspended from posting for 24 hours after he posted a satirical mockup of what he obviously saw as Trump administration discrimination and racism. (That is, making fun of the appointments of "President Poopiepants", the Child who runs the free world.) 
He had posted: "MAD MAN IN WASHINGTON D.C. SEEKS NEW CHIEF OF STAFF: Only serious and qualified persons should apply. No blacks, Latinos, women of self-esteem, faggots, Muslims, non-Christians, people with HIV, marijuana users, Haitians, immigrants from predominantly non-White countries, Salvadorans, and citizens of shit hole countries.”  I guess Stephen Miller qualifies. Maybe Jeff Sessions.  And running mate Mike Pence.  

Facebook wrote back: “It looks like something you posted doesn’t follow our Community Standards. We remove posts that attack people based on their race, ethnicity, national origin, religious affiliation, sexual orientation and gender identity.”

The friend describes “Facebook jail for 24 hours on bread and water” as if it were a square on an monopoly board. He also believes he was “reported” by another user.  He also noted the risks of "public" postings (not restricted or whitelisted to friends' lists). 
There is a serious problem is a major social media site cannot accept what should be obvious satire.
I’m not sure what to make of this.  Does Facebook really believe that an illiterate user will believe that is is literally an incitement to racist behavior?  Is the speaker morally responsible for misuse of his speech by the illiterate?  

You could call this the “gratuitous speech” problem.  Over 12 years ago, when I was substitute teaching, I was essentially compelled to suspend myself after a screenplay short film I had posted (on my own) was circulated, in which a substitute teacher is “seduced” by a charismatic but possibly underage teen (much as in “Call Me by Your Name”, although the teen would be of  legal age in Italy). Remember the line, “Am I offending you?” But of course, there is a fear that if someone finds it, they will see it as enticement to carry out what happens in the screenplay, so what is my “purpose” in posting it?  
As far as "literacy", I remember being taught about satire in high school English.  We all read Jonathan Swift's "A Modest Proposal."  This is poking fun at something that badly needs to change.  This is "vicious satire."  

There's another affiliated concern:  the mere mention of something, reminding others of it gratuitously, suggests that the underlying problem is not settled and that it needs to remain in the air, so that some people will perceive a justification to continue the discriminatory behavior just because other speakers dare them to. 
The legal term for this problem is “implicit content”, and I’m surprised it isn’t discussed more openly in legal forums about Internet speech.  It actually did get mentioned in the COPA trial back in 2006.  It needs to be separated from the "fire in a crowded theater" problem, as there is no imminent threat of lawless action (rioting) but in some people's minds an implicit endorsement of continual subterfuge of nice proletarian order. 
A variation of this problem used to come up in "personals" ads with the "no fats or fems" lines, now often not accepted.  Milo Yiannopoulos will cry "dangerous". 

Note the video above and the definition of "Poe's Law for the Internet".

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