Facebook and Fascism
By Leanna Ludwig
Not only has the founder become ever cozier with a man who aspires to fascist dictatorship; not only is Facebook not behaving at all according to their own community standards regarding community safety and not allowing hate speech, harassment, threats, doxxing, and bigotry; not only is the platform increasingly and incredibly and actively unsafe for minorities of any kind (women, ethnic and religious minorities, LGBTQ+ people, et cetera) and children; not only is the platform rife with criminals, pedophiles, bigots, and extremists with no moderation. All of that could be said about 4chan.
No, not only can these things be said about Facebook, but unlike any other internet den of the dregs of humanity, Facebook is massively influential. Facebook activity has led to rebellions and regime changes. It has led to massive progressive movements… and then the higher-ups apparently decided they preferred instead to empower fascists, anarchists, criminals, authoritarians, and bigots. Facebook had begun preferring these people to such a degree that their voices and activity are left unaddressed even when repeatedly reported by hundreds, while an individual merely using the terms “men” or “white people” can be put on mute and not allowed use of the platform for days or weeks. Not (only) because of a comment that was reported (despite containing nothing untrue or offensive), but because even mentioning a phrase like “white bigotry” will get one muted by the algorithm.
The issue is not merely that Facebook is fetid; lots of places on the internet are full of bigotry and filth and threats of violence and the like. The problem is that Facebook is also powerful, and has a freakish amount of information on all its users whether you consented to disclose that information or not, and thus must either be held accountable for what they are turning into, or named for the white nationalist terrorist haven it is, and destroyed.
It Is Possible to Do Something
Resistance is not futile.
Before anything else I must make that point, as people often confuse a situation being challenging or requiring effort or even being daunting, with its being impossible. People confuse a formidable opponent or circumstance with an insurmountable one. This is not by accident; it is a ploy specifically intended to cut your legs from under you. If anyone can convince you that there is simply no point in fighting back, they immediately secure immense freedom to violate you however they like. They have won, without having to do anything but make you give up. They may have attacked, but by your acquiescence, they don’t have to fight.
That is a perfect kill. When you can convince someone to just let you slit their throat, without dealing with any of that inconvenient struggling.
Realize this. Consider it; pause to absorb it if you need to.
If you have that down, remember also that no one accomplishes anything alone. You’re here because your mother carried you, you can read because you were taught, I am writing this on a laptop I did not built with a typeface I did not design and publishing it using internet I don’t have to personally maintain in a house I also did not build to place it on a platform I do not own or control. I am alerting you about what Facebook is doing and the impact that has exactly because we can and must do something about it.
Facebook Suppresses Minority and Non-Right Voices
Facebook’s polarizing mechanics are also well-known and well-documented. It is a radicalization machine — but driving people to the far-right much more than it encourages anyone towards the left, towards tolerance and civil rights. From the second article, Wired:
Facebook’s algorithms actively push conservatives toward more radical content than liberal users. Kitchens and Johnson analyzed the news habits of over 200,000 users who agreed to share their browsing data. They found that Facebook pushed conservatives, unlike its moderate or liberal users, to read dramatically more radical content over time.
The polarization and radicalization is an issue in itself, but now it is compounded by not even needing to abide by community standards. Meanwhile progressive voices and even those merely vaguely critical of privileged groups are suppressed automatically by the algorithm, to the point that a simple attempt to comment “men suck” in a group built to complain about men or mentioning “white bigotry” in a racial justice context can result in an, I cannot sufficiently stress, automatic ban or mute on pressing the “post” button.
Mr. Zuckerberg claims to value freedom of speech above all else, but it is very clear he only values the freedom of speech from those who least need and most abuse it. This has escalated to such a degree that there is a petition[i] to demand Facebook be held accountable.
Facebook has been for at LEAST this year and by my research for some time before that, suppressing minority and progressive voices. If you don’t want to take my word for it, there are a few different articles you might be interested in also reading, even ones where employees specifically acknowledge that the algorithm is designed to target minorities more and accuse them of hate speech more often than actual racists actually attacking black people.
The platform is biased to such an extreme that while the examples of hate below are allowed to persist, leftist and progressive groups get “Zucced”, like “My blood type is ACAB”:
Facebook Refuses To Punish Community Standards Violations from the Right
Honestly, everything in this section has already been covered by this[ii] Forbes article. They themselves refer to it as a “cesspool of bigotry”. For proof, observe a small sampling of the kind of posts people have formed entire Facebook groups trying to report and get taken down, but which at time of publication remain publicly available:
Facebook groups specifically against BLM, a fight for civil rights and to get people to stop killing African Americans.
The mayor of Snohomish, WA asserting that he honestly just didn’t realize how racist his anti-BLM post was, that clearly depicted a car running over people:
A man bragging about how he and his friends burned BLM (again, civil rights) flags and enjoyed themselves by faking some lynching. You know, for fun:
A post by someone who went to the effort of affixing a fake skeleton and hateful messages to their car, accompanied by the exceptionally common bigoted lie and false equivalency that BLM or Antifa (literally, anti-fascists) are just as bad as the fascists:
The pinned post for Women’s Abortion Rights Campaign Brisbane[iii] openly displays transphobia and homophobia (against AFAB nonbinary people) by insisting that “Only women experience unwanted pregnancy. Only women have a uterus. Only women have a cervix. None of this is ‘transphobic hatred’. It’s just biology. Support women. Support women’s rights.” Obviously, not all people who experience pregnancy are women, not all women experience pregnancy, and transwomen pose no threat to women’s rights whatsoever. The only excuse for such an attitude is bigotry, and their claim that it is not transphobic hatred but biology may have as well been lifted from a phrenology textbook with some terms swapped.
There is literally a group called Anti-Antifa, which is nothing but conspiracy theories, false news, bigotry, hatred, and lies. This group is public and has been reported by actual thousands and still, nothing, and they post things like the below —
Facebook is so completely disinterested in actually keeping the community safe and being accountable to their community and their own standards, there is literally no way to guarantee that you will get the attention of a human being able to do something about whatever your concern or complaint, and regardless of the kind of violation you observe. In fact, there is every reason to believe that there is no human reviewing reported content at all, even if you request a review, even if you are reporting something serious like child pornography or plans to commit violence or even murder. It is of course good to notify the authorities as well in such cases, but law enforcement is notoriously behind when it comes to even understanding online criminal activity, never mind ever doing anything about it.
Beyond that, one must remember that law enforcement only can get involved once a situation meets specific criteria or there is evidence that would hold up under intense court scrutiny as to the intentions of the people involved. Someone planning to organize a lynching party can easily insist they’re just joking around, and then the only ones who could do anything about it, would be Facebook. Never mind the issues trying to get a human at Facebook in order to make sure to have evidence of the harassment, threats, or whatever else in order to even hope to do anything about it. By “issues”, I mean that it is actually impossible to get in immediate or timely contact with a human at Facebook at any time for any reason regardless of the severity or importance of your motive for contact.
There is no possible excuse for the inability of a user, even in an emergency, even when observing an obvious violation of community standards and an active risk, even when that risk is immediate and severe and indicative of an emergency, to get in touch with a human being at Facebook. If their argument is that the platform is too large for them to manage, that does not excuse what they have let it become, only exposes that they have lost control, and would be an argument for destroying it altogether and an admission that they are incapable of controlling it.
And the sort of people who profit by their inability and/or negligence, have noticed.
If you report someone for, as a personal example, harassing you and sending you rape and doxxing threats, there will be nothing done. They won’t be muted, they won’t be banned, they likely would not even be notified. Facebook will offer that you should instead block them, and how many people block someone does not matter at all and carries no consequences for them. It means only that, bit by bit, out of disgust or interest for their own safety, the kind of people who are most harmed and targeted by such predators, cannot even see their activity. It solidifies the bubble around them, allowing such a predator to curate a list of friends who will tolerate or even encourage all manner of threats, criminality, bigotry, hate speech, discrimination, lying, fake news, and whatever else they decide they might profit by putting out into the net to be seen. Or just whatever other hateful thing they want to do.
One of these proudly unfeeling creeps, ever emboldened by facing no consequences, knows that the only consequence they’re likely to face even if they were to deliberately use slurs against a minority, or “joke” about assaulting children, or whatever else, is being blocked by people who might have (harmlessly, because of deliberately toothless policies) reported them or complained about their behavior, and thus being even more free to be vile. Because trolls are a thing and the fad of not caring and existing, apparently, just to feel superior to “libtards” by saying the most offensive things you can get away with is again, well known and well documented, and also because fascism and bigotry are real, what this ends up doing is concentrating all of these people into avenues where they can echo and reinforce each other, and become ever more radicalized and ever more emboldened to enact real violence on people.
These, the worst of humanity, are more free to speak than people whose organizational name means “stop killing us”. On Facebook, one can more freely call transwomen “men in dresses” and talk about how age of consent laws are a violation of your rights, than you can organize to support LGBTQ+ people or organize support for rape survivors. Being bigoted and threatening only may get you some kind of organizational punishment — it seems, only if the “right” person (someone who is not marked as a minority or a sympathizer to civil rights causes — yes that’s a thing on Facebook) reports you. But without having to worry about any kind of human response to what you want to say or do, it is now so clear that anything vaguely progressive is preemptively penalized that millions of women have begun to use substitutions for fear of typing something about “men” and being banned.
Meanwhile, bigots have just resorted to other and/or longer slurs, that an algorithm would not catch, or that are nigh impossible to program an automated response to because they rely on conversational context and the identities of those involved, as “spade” (this is because the word is perfectly legitimate referring to a garden tool). It is not at all difficult to see, with human eyes, where use of this word is wrong… but human eyes are not being applied.
In particular, the far right loves to put their worst bigotry, the N-word, calls for a “true final solution”, etc. in the form of memes, which the algorithm, in my experience, has never removed unless the image was also sexually explicit.
Even if Facebook is only cowering to and humoring the bigots by giving them what they want so they don’t make a fuss, that is no more excusable. It is prioritizing the comfort and creation of a bunch of fascist bigots over the safety of everyone else, and the stability of our democracy. Whether the algorithm is behaving this way and having this result due to intentional, malicious coding or blind, uncaring incompetence is immaterial, because it has no mediating effect on the real-world consequences of their actions and lack of oversight.
We can NOT continue to ignore the fact that Facebook facilitates fascism. The way it operates, the way people have chosen to operate it, accomplishes better than anything the likes of the Klan could have dreamed, in terms of a tool for recruiting, radicalization, targeting, and achieving harm.
What We Need to Do
So, let’s review.
Facebook, the largest and the most influential social (and therefore political) arena in the world with untold masses of personally identifying data on every user, is suppressing progressive and victim’s voices, protecting and amplifying fascist bigoted and abusive voices, is not controlling their platform to redress this despite promises and insistences that they would, and is cozying up to the American leader preferred by Kim Jong Un, Putin, and Xi.
No one rational would look at that situation and imagine that it could resolve itself in a way at all beneficial to humanity, never mind that it could be allowed to lie. It is our moral responsibility as a society to reject this, in our disgust, to be repelled by what they are doing, how they lie to billions of users, directly, shamelessly, claiming that you, that your children will be safe on their site, when in reality there is nothing you can you do if someone is bullied, if they are threatened, if they are doxed or harassed or demeaned, told to kill themselves or have slurs thrown at them.
That is not keeping anyone safe but people whose sole aim is to make others unsafe. It protects only the immature, blustering, desperate solipsist who thinks “Well, maybe the blacks should just get over it and they’re finally getting a taste of what it’s like to not be able to say whatever you want!”
It as good as deliberately creates an environment that tells anyone with any minority status, which contrary to the name is the majority of people on the planet, that not only are they unsafe on Facebook but that their safety is not something worth protecting.
It doesn’t matter what they say or promise when their actions are tantamount to screaming “Your lives do not matter — unless you are white, conservative, bigoted, and preferably male.” The audience you want is the audience you make comfortable and happy, as anyone remotely in the public eye and most out of it know. With Facebook pandering to bigots, there can be a sole conclusion, and until their actions show that they do not mean to but are doing better and suppressing bigoted terrorism on their site — of the white nationalist variety, the MAPs, the conspiracy theorists and fake news peddlers and whomever else — any claims they make that they are really trying or they are going to do better, we promise are nothing more than gaslighting.
Consider what is at stake here. Again, whether you intended to indicate it to them or not, Facebook knows your age, race, your location, your media preferences, your political beliefs, your income level, your family and friends, your relationship status, your relationship history, your religious beliefs, your education level, and on and on and on it goes. Even when you don’t list it on your profile, when you never intend to indicate it to them at all, they are constantly mining your every post and comment and collecting this information on you.
And no. It is not always accurate. Actually, there are inevitably flaws with data collected this way and processed by algorithm, and that should scare you more. It means you don’t even have to be legitimately part of a group targeted by bigots, to be targeted and attacked by bigots.
Facebook is essentially a list of racial and ethnic minorities, LGBTQ+ people, race-traitors (how bigots see white people who do not buy into their supremacist ideology), children, young men vulnerable to fascist radicalization, and so on. One has to ask, what if. What if the Nazis had Facebook? No, it doesn’t matter if Facebook insists that isn’t what they want, to become a tool for these people. It doesn’t matter what they want, this is what they are. Actually, let’s pretend to believe that, a moment. Let’s believe that Facebook is truly doing their best to control the platform.
That makes it worse. That means that despite their best work, bigotry is flourishing on their site. As a programmer, I can tell you, there are really easy ways to fix the algorithm, really simple rules that could be put in if the priority were actually community safety and suppressing bigotry.
· First and foremost: HUMAN BEINGS would review reports of community violations.
· A specific number or type of reports, e.g. if someone kept getting reports about gender-identity hate speech violations from trans people (or other reports of hate from such a marginalized class), should result in an automatic and permanent ban, and profile/comment erasure.[iv]
· Threats should result in an immediate and permanent ban
· Again, HUMAN MODERATORS
This kind of thing is basic, and extremely manageable, if priorities are in the correct place. It strains incredulity well beyond the breaking point to imagine that just no one at Facebook has thought about how to achieve this, that they just didn’t know how. It must instead be assumed that they refuse.
So, what regular people can do:
· Delete the app. Use Facebook on a browser, where the notifications cannot pester you as incessantly and drive you towards media addiction.
· Keep reporting bigots. Facebook has recently taken to removing record of what you report from your reporting history (yet another move that curiously benefits people who violate policy most of all), so you need to keep your own records. Take note how often the things you report actually get anything done about them at all — if you can.
· Stop tagging your location and faces in pictures.
· Learn about your security and data settings. Tighten your security and erase as much of your data as you can.
· Clear your About information. Facebook does not really need to know where you work or who you are related to or dating.
· Essentially, deprive them of as much data as you can, and if it is feasible for you,
Stop using Facebook altogether. Studies have shown that it is healthier to use Facebook less, no matter what Facebook claims.[v]
Regarding not directly interacting with the platform, we should:
· Support legislation that would hold corporations like Facebook liable when attacks planned on their platform and reported come to pass. The negligence is criminal, morally if not legally.
· Support legislation that would prevent any corporation from collecting or storing personally identifiable information or information linked to a person that together results in their being identifiable, without obtaining written consent as to the exact nature of the information provided. For children, tracking data should simply not be kept.
· Reconnect with people in the more old-fashioned ways. There was all of history and society and socializing before Facebook and it is far from the only place to gather online. Until it is actually safe and well-regulated, it should not be the largest or most popular; it cannot handle the responsibility by all evidence.
Essentially, you need to be politically active because les absents ont toujours tort; “the absent are always wrong”. Of course you won’t be heard if you don’t speak; there is no such thing as a silent majority.
If you believe a thing, you stand by it, you speak it, you live it. If you do not live according to your mores, they are not your mores, just rules you vaguely feel that you should follow. If a thing strikes you as wrong, if it must not be, if it is morally abhorrent, and you do nothing, all you do is accept it. As far as anyone victimized by it should be concerned, you condone it, and by your idleness make the world that much more comfortable for evil.
There is no such thing as neutrality or centrism in situations like these. You do not look for the “middle ground” between someone who says the sorts of things in the screenshots above, and the person or people they are trying to dehumanize.
If you are moral, you fight, and you fight for the person who needs it.
[i] https://actions.sumofus.org/a/facebook-zuckerberg-do-your-job/?akid=80918.15887790.W4wbXa&rd=1&source=fwd&t=10 (contribution: Faith Durst)
[ii] https://www.forbes.com/sites/jemimamcevoy/2020/08/04/study-facebook-allows-and-recommends-white-supremacist-anti-semitic-and-qanon-groups-with-thousands-of-members/#9c48726bbd3d (Research credit: Faith Durst & Source 1)
[iii] Research credit, Source 2
[iv] Yes, only a marginalized class because reverse bigotry is not a thing.
[v] I will also note that this study of the effects was conducted in 2018 around the USA midterm elections, and should not be confused with the Facebook-sponsored attempt to buy liberal-leaning people off their platform with barely any notice, in 2020, leading up to the Presidential election, something which is at best suspicious timing.