Comedian Marcia Belsky’s 30 day ban for response to misogynistic abuse directed at friend prompts protest resulting in hundreds of suspensions
In the wake of the multiple sexual harassment and abuse scandals across the globe, Facebook has been suspending women for “hate speech” against men after posting variations of the phrase “men are scum”.
Despite Facebook’s chief operating officer Sheryl Sandberg warning of a potential backlash against women as scandals rock companies and political institutions, the social network continues to ban women speaking out against men as a group.
New York-based standup comic Marcia Belsky was banned in October for 30 days from Facebook for posting “men are scum” as a comment on her friend Nicole Silverberg’s photo album detailing the abuse Silverberg had received after writing a list of ways men can treat women better on Twitter, which was later published by the Guardian.
Belsky told the Daily Dot this wasn’t the first time Facebook had banned her for similar infractions, including jokes and innocuous comments warning about alleged sexual predators.
Belsky is not alone in her censorship and bans by Facebook. Fellow comedian Kayla Avery says she routinely gets banned for comments such as “men are garbage fires”, “the worst”, “trash” and other derivatives. After several suspensions, Avery set up a community project called Facebook Jailed, highlighting the stories of those suffering similar bans for posting comments.
A private Facebook group of about 500 female comedians also got together on 24 November to stage a protest, posting derivatives of “men are scum” all at once. Nearly every woman who took part in the protest got banned by Facebook, according to the Daily Beast.
Facebook said Belsky’s bans were a mistake, and reinstated some of the comments. But according to recent posts by Avery, fellow comedian Elsa Waithe and others, Facebook is not only still banning people for posting new comments along the lines of “men are scum”, but actively going through their timelines and deleting older posts about men.
Part of the problem is Facebook’s complicated moderating guidelines.
Facebook says that threats and hate speech directed towards a protected group violate its community standards and therefore are removed. The social network told the Daily Beast that “men are scum” was a threat and therefore should be removed.
Facebook’s “protected categories” are based on race, gender, religion, ethnicity, sexual orientation and other factors. When hate speech is directed to a category the guidelines are clear – the content must be removed. But according to ProPublica when hate speech is directed at subsets of the categories a greater latitude is afforded users.
Many of the posts that have seen Belsky and others banned from Facebook have been in reply to direct attacks on them and friends with what many would consider hate speech.
Facebook told the Daily Dot that specific attacks are reviewed as harassment, saying: “If I attack you for being a female that would amount to hate speech. But if I attack you because I have something against journalists that would qualify as harassment.”
One of the reasons the female comedians are being banned over and over is that Facebook operates an escalation policy, with a record of previous incidents for repeat offenders. Each subsequent violation of Facebook’s community guidelines receives a heavier punishment.
For privacy reasons, Facebook moderators also see content in isolation, which means that the context of the content, who has produced it and their history could be very difficult to discern.
Facebook said that it is working hard to remedy harassment issues, and has repeatedly stated that it wants the social network to be a safe and respectful space for all. After footage of shootings, murders, rapes and assaults were streamed live on the site, Facebook said it was adding 3,000 extra moderators to its staff and that it would refine its moderation policies.
Facebook told the Daily Dot that its policy team includes a diverse range of people including former teachers, prosecutors and women who have worked in a rape crisis centre. A spokesperson said: “The policies aren’t developed in a vacuum. We consult with researchers and academics. We work with outside groups to get their feedback and expertise.”
A Facebook spokesperson told the Guardian: “We understand how important it is for victims of harassment to be able to share their stories and for people to express anger and opinions about harassment — we allow those discussions on Facebook. We draw the line when people attack others simply on the basis of their gender.”