A journalist was temporarily banned from Facebook after a post in which he called Trump supporters “a nasty fascistic lot”, in the latest example of the social media platform’s censorship of journalists.
Facebook “reviewed and restored” the post by Kevin Sessums after being contacted by the Guardian and dropped the posting ban.
“We’re very sorry about this mistake,” a spokesman said. “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.”
Sessums, who is well known for his celebrity profiles for Vanity Fair and two best-selling memoirs, says that he shared a Facebook post from ABC political analyst Matthew Dowd that read: “In the last few hours I have been called by lovely ‘christian’ Trump fans: a jew, faggot, retard. To set record straight: divorced Catholic.”
Sessums added his own commentary, writing:
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.
Soon thereafter, Sessums received a notification from Facebook that the post violated the company’s “community standards” and that he was barred from posting for 24 hours.
“It’s chilling. It’s arbitrary censorship,” Sessums said. “I was like, ‘Wait a minute, do I have to be careful about what I say about Trump now?’”
The censorship of Sessums caps a year in which Facebook has increasingly struggled to navigate its role as the world’s largest media platform, with unprecedented influence over the global flow of news and information.
In September, the company sparked controversy when it censored an iconic photograph of a naked child fleeing a Napalm attack during the Vietnam war. That incident also began with the company banning an individual journalist for 24 hours but soon ballooned into global outrage. The company went so far as to censor a post by the prime minister of Norway before backing down and acknowledging the historic significance of the photograph.
In October, the company responded to the controversy by announcing that it would consider factors like newsworthiness and the public interest when deciding how to enforce its “community standards”.
Policing the platform became particularly tricky during the heated US election. Facebook did not respond to questions about why Sessum’s post was mistakenly censored, but the incident highlights the company’s ham-handedness when it comes to political speech.
The Wall Street Journal reported in October that one instance when the company relaxed its standards around hate speech came when it chose not to censor a post by then-candidate Donald Trump, despite the fact that the post violated the company’s rules barring hate speech.
“Mr Zuckerberg acknowledged that Mr Trump’s call for a ban [of Muslims] did qualify as hate speech, but said the implications of removing them were too drastic,” the Wall Street Journal reported.
For Sessums, the temporary banning was particularly significant because he uses his Facebook page as a “personal blog”.
The author has about 20,000 friends and followers, and he considers his frequent posts a “meta-memoir”. Since Trump’s election, however, Sessums’ posts have been largely political, with frequent invocations of “fascism”.
Sessums said that he was deeply disturbed by the fact that there was no appeals process for individuals facing bans.
“What will the cyber world be like under a Trump administration?” he asked, referencing Facebook board member Peter Thiel’s support of the president-elect. “This is chilling to me.”
This article was written by Julia Carrie Wong in San Francisco, for theguardian.com on Friday 30th December 2016 21.22 Europe/Londonguardian.co.uk © Guardian News and Media Limited 2010