Facebook is once again having to apologize for the actions of one of its community policing operatives after San Francisco-based writer Kevin Sessums was issued a 24-hour suspension for referring to Trump supporters as a "nasty fascistic lot." He was told he had violated the platforms "community standards," and he immediately took to Instagram to make his case for why this was "arbitrary censorship," writing, "To be censored and blocked rightfully naming the rise of fascism is a form of fascism itself and corporate collaboration... We are living in dangerous Orwellian times."
The suspension of Sessums's account came on the same day that Breitbart's Milo Yiannopoulos, whom Sessums calls a "celebrity fascist," announced that he'd gotten a $250,000 advance from Simon & Schuster to write a book titled Dangerous, filled no doubt with his indefensible arguments about why hate speech is free speech. And Sessums notes the coincidence as further evidence of our scary era.
As the Guardian reports, Sessums was responding to a post by ABC political analyst Matthew Dowd, who was himself addressing the Trump supporters on Twitter who attacked him with racist and homophobic language.
This was the tweet:
In the last few hours i have been called by lovely "christian" Trump fans: a jew, faggot, retard. To set record straight: divorced Catholic— Matthew Dowd (@matthewjdowd) December 29, 2016
Sessums responded with the following:
But as those who do hold Trump to the standards of any other person have found out on Twitter and other social media outlets these Trump followers are a nasty fascistic lot. Dowd is lucky he didn’t get death threats like Kurt Eichenwald. Or maybe he did and refuses to acknowledge them. If you voted for Trump and continue to support him and you think you are better than these bigoted virulent trolls, you’re not. Your silence enables them just as it did in the racist campaign that Trump and Bannon ran. In fact, hiding behind a civilized veneer in your support of fascism I consider more dangerous. We’re past describing you as collaborators at this point. That lets you off the hook. You’re Russo-American oligarchical theocratic fascists.
Having quickly made a stink about the account suspension, Sessums got Facebook to reverse themselves, but the scenario is just another of many that proves how fallible Facebook's moderation system is, and how only those with the largest voices and greatest influence can take them to task when they make mistakes much like how only celebrities can get Twitter to enforce their own rules against abuse.
Facebook issued a mea culpa, again, saying, "We’re very sorry about this mistake. The post was removed in error and restored as soon as we were able to investigate. Our team processes millions of reports each week, and we sometimes get things wrong."
It could be, though, that it's a lot more than "sometimes," and only when a well known writer like Sessums best known for his celebrity profiles and two memoirs makes noise does Facebook apologize and make things right.
NPR took a dive last month into Facebook's murky Community Operations department, which has a large hub of operations in Ireland but also employs armies of low-paid workers elsewhere to scan flagged Facebook posts and make quick judgements typically within seconds about whether they constitute violations.
A leaked set of training slides also surfaced earlier this month, apparently from this department, suggesting that many of the judgements that have to be made by these moderators are quite complex, like distinguishing statements of general prejudice ("The Irish are drunks") and specific bias or criticism ("My Irish neighbors are such fucking drunks") the latter would be allowed, but the former would be grounds for deletion or suspension.
Facebook's "community standards" have been called to question especially in light of the election, which puts the site in the position of arbitrating between pro-Trump and anti-Trump posters, and trying to be even-handed about it. But a friend of Sessums, Peter Staley, who lists himself on the site as a "professional protester" among other things, writes, "This might become the new normal if we don't fight back. Trumpsters will file complaints with FB to get us blocked, and FB won't defend us unless we raise bloody hell."
In this instance, that indeed appears to have been the case.