First published on 8 Aug 2012. Updated on 9 Aug 2012.
On Tuesday I was tooling about Facebook, as I so often do in lieu of actual work, when a wall post caught my eye from Kellie Lloyd, Screamfeeder bassist, maker of this year’s rather brilliant solo album Magnetic North and all-round top-notch dame. It was a page called “Aboriginal Memes” and contained a bunch of lolcat-style pix, mainly of an Aboriginal man’s face with gags like “0.5% of population – 60% of welfare” emblazoned thereon.
“Report this page” Lloyd entreated her FB friends, and so I dutifully shared it with my own friends, reported the page for breach of Facebook’s community guidelines regarding hate speech, felt a little rush of righteousness and got on with my day.
A few hours later, I received this email:
Thanks for your recent report of a potential violation on Facebook. After reviewing your report, we were not able to confirm that the specific page you reported violates Facebook's Statement of Rights and Responsibilities.
Learn more about what we do and don't allow by reviewing the Facebook Community Standards: https://www.facebook.com/communitystandards.
Now, here are Facebook’s guidelines around Hate Speech:
Facebook does not permit hate speech. While we encourage you to challenge ideas, institutions, events, and practices, it is a serious violation to attack a person based on their race, ethnicity, national origin, religion, sex, gender, sexual orientation, disability or medical condition.
…so, um, in what way does this page not breach those guidelines?
Seriously, Facebook? You're OK with this?
Now, I’m not a fool. I appreciate that the email was from a bot, not a human being, and that it presumably did a quick scan for keywords and found nothing (since the offensive text was embedded in pics, and also since the context was offensive rather than the language itself). Had the message said “We can’t confirm this is in breach, but a monitor will assess the page within 24 hours and report back” I’d have considered the process to be in train.
However, since the message seemed to suggest that things were not necessarily going any further, I got a little steamed.
Several emails to every journalist I knew later, the page vanished at around 10pm – not just from Facebook, but from my wall and the wall of everyone who’d posted on it. Victory! People power! That capricious minx we call sanity had prevailed once more!
And then about 40 minutes later, it reappeared – but with a subtle difference in the URL and descriptor. Now it had the qualifier “Controversial Humor”. Because apparently something isn’t racist as long as it’s explained that it’s funny. Even – perhaps especially – if it also isn’t funny.
I and many, many others have been trying to work out whether this was a Facebook appellation or whether the owner of the page made the change themselves. Facebook, as of Wednesday morning, have declined to comment (and emails to email@example.com have bounced), so I’m still curious as to whether Facebook think that racism magically becomes not just OK but hilarious as long as it’s described as “controversial humor” (not even “humour”. Please, Facebook, you’re serving Australia here. Spelling counts).
This isn’t a free speech vs edgy comedy debate (although that’d be a fun one to have, and if anyone fancies it, I’m absolutely up for it): this is about whether or not Facebook are actually prepared to enforce their own community guidelines.
But also – and I feel ridiculous saying this in 2012 – let’s just be clear: racism is not OK. It’s not funny, it’s not edgy, and it’s not harmless. It has real-world consequences, and anyone who decides to spout racist garbage should at the very least have the courage to weather having the rest of the community telling them they’re a dickhead.
As of Wednesday, the page is still up
. For what it’s worth, I encourage you to report it to Facebook too.
Hiding behind anonymous Facebook pages making fun of racial groups is the work of terrified cowards – but that’s a secondary issue. Facebook, to some extent, is a sovereign nation and has its own laws – but a law that’s not enforced is no law at all.
Ball's in your court, Facebook.
UPDATE: The Race Discrimination Commissioner Helen Szoke and the Australian Communications and Media Authority are now calling for Facebook to have the page taken down. More on this as it develops
UPDATE ON THE UPDATE: The page has been taken down, although clone sites have appeared.