There’s a well-known saying in the Black community: “You have to be twice as good to get half as much.” This is sometimes referred to as the “Black tax.” It means that Black people have to work twice as hard as white people to receive a fraction of the payoff. So, for example, if I’m attending college, I have to get straight A’s in order to obtain an internship that Chad could get with a 2.0. If I’m interviewing for a job, I need to be twice as qualified as Hannah before advancing far enough in the interview process to fail my drug test. And, if I’m community organizing on social media, I have to have twice as many Facebook accounts as white activists, because Mark Zuckerberg straight up hates Black people.
Or so it seems.
As I write this, I’m currently serving two simultaneous Facebook bans. I, like many Black organizers, have taken to maintaining two accounts — a primary and a backup. It’s infuriating and tedious, but I chalk it up to the Black tax. Since Black organizers are more likely to have their content flagged and removed for “violating community standards,” we’ve had to find workarounds to sustain our online presence and engagement. Currently, my primary and backup accounts are both banned for “promoting hate speech.” That means bigoted trolls lurked my page reporting anything and everything, hoping I’d be in violation of the vague “standards” imposed by Facebook. It’s kinda like how white people reflexively call the cops whenever they see a Black person outside. Except in this case it’s not my physical presence they find threatening, it’s my digital one.
During a Facebook ban, a user’s account retains all functionality in terms of reading and navigating the site, but posting of any kind is prohibited. You can see content; you just can’t communicate. This conveniently prevents users from informing their followers they’ve been unfairly banned, essentially halting us from raising awareness around the issue. I find this doubly insulting because it’s reminiscent of early slave codes, which often made it permissible for enslaved people to read, but illegal for them to write (a potential catalyst for “insurrection and rebellion”). It seems the intent behind silencing outspoken Black folks hasn’t changed in the last few hundred years. And while Mark Zuckerberg hasn’t yet sentenced me to “thirty nine lashes on [my] bare back,” I can’t say for certain that penalty isn’t hidden somewhere in Facebook’s ridiculous terms of service.
I’ve lost count of how many Black organizers have had their Facebook accounts temporarily or permanently banned for posting content that even remotely challenges white supremacy.
Prominent activist and co-founder of Safety Pin Box, Leslie Mac, was recently banned for posting, “silence is violence,” in reference to white Americans not speaking out against racism. Human rights advocate and psychologist, Dr. Mary Merrill, received her third Facebook ban for a thought-provoking post that apparently violated standards for her use of the phrase, “Dear White People.” Nynah Marie, co-founder of Brown Girls Out Loud, was ironically banned for a status criticizing Facebook’s racist banning practices. Community organizer, Sherronda Brown, was banned twice for uploading screenshots of racist and sexist harassment she’d received via Facebook comments and private messages. Although the original messages to Brown were reported without consequence, she was still banned for posting proof of the abuse. That’s like being charged with sexual harassment for posting photos of Casey Affleck. Not cool, Zuck.
Even Shaun King — who was once a guest speaker at Facebook Headquarters — had his account banned for posting a racist email he’d received from a white supremacist. Calling out racism seems to be the common thread between Black Facebook users who repeatedly experience censorship. Just as in real life, when a person of color (or Shaun King) calls out racism they’re promptly silenced and accused of being racist themselves. And this censorship doesn’t just impact activists. Any posts deemed in violation are removed from the pages of EVERYONE who shared them — essentially silencing thousands of Black voices (much to the delight of Mark Zuckerberg, who definitely hates Black people).
Once, on a status discussing safe locations for Black families to live, I was banned for commenting, “Canadians are hella racist though.” The banning was a surprise, since the comment was mundane, accurate, and buried deep in a discussion thread. Although Facebook’s community standards state, “the number of reports does not impact whether something will be removed,” I convinced myself that the comment must have been maliciously flagged and taken down without human review. There was no way a Facebook moderator read the context of the discussion and thought it warranted banning a Black mother and activist. Or at least that’s what I hoped.
To test my theory, I found two racist Facebook posts — one deceptively racist and one flagrantly racist — and sent a few hundred of my followers to report them for hate speech to see how Facebook would respond.
The first post was an image of police officers holding up signs that read, “Police Lives Matters [sic].” The second post was a status stating, “niggers deserve to die.” I chose these two posts because — content-wise — their meanings are identical. They both declare the opposite of Black Lives Matter. In other words, “Police Lives Matter” is the socially acceptable way of saying “niggers deserve to die.” But since most folks won’t concede that point (see comments section for proof), I figured it would help me determine how many times a post needed to be flagged before being taken down automatically.
The Police Lives Matter post was reported over 400 times but never removed from Facebook — not even temporarily. And needless to say the page was never banned. 15 hours after the first wave of reports, my followers started receiving messages from Facebook informing them that the post wasn’t in violation. The “niggers deserve to die” post was taken down in a few hours, and that page was also never banned, despite exhibiting numerous examples of hate speech.
What I learned from this experiment is that Black organizers aren’t being banned due to faulty algorithms and hyper-reporting. Internet trolls help ensure our posts are reviewed, but white supremacy takes it from there. We’re being banned by actual Facebook employees with glaring racial biases and no understanding of social dynamics or historical context. So the more recognition a post gets, the more likely it will be reported, and the more likely Mark Zuckerberg will personally ban the user, because he literally hates Black people… a lot.
Outspoken organizer and occasional pariah, Masai Andrews, was banned so many times that it prompted him to create an online petition demanding Facebook address the racist and unequal enforcement of their community standards. The petition, which has been signed more than 6,000 times, lays out clear policy changes Facebook could implement to combat the systemic censorship experienced by Black Facebook users. It also points out that transgender users continue to face discrimination in being forced to use their “dead names” or risk being banned. The petition is addressed to the seven “white cisgender individuals currently serving as top level Facebook executives.” This includes notorious Black person-hater, Mark Zuckerberg.
For Black organizers, Facebook is more than our daily dopamine fix of memes and “likes.”
Cue the cries for Black folks to “make their own platform!” if we don’t like being discriminated against. I call this the “go back to Africa” argument. It ignores the fact that white corporations have a virtual monopoly on the resources and infrastructure necessary for such an undertaking, and would only serve to further insulate white society from anti-racism ideology. I’m sure Facebook, like much of the world, would love for Black people to just quietly disappear. But like a socially conscious beer commercial, it’s not gonna happen.
For Black organizers, Facebook is more than our daily dopamine fix of memes and “likes.” It has become a vital tool for conveying marginalized narratives that are excluded from mainstream media. It has proven to be an invaluable resource for intra-community organizing and the mobilization of our base. Despite Facebook’s many security shortcomings, it’s still the most ubiquitous collaborative global platform. The integrated Messenger app is also the number one communications app in the Western Hemisphere, and is tied with WhatsApp for the number one messenger on the planet. WhatsApp, incidentally, is also owned by Facebook. So by prejudicially restricting users, Facebook is not only preventing Black voices from reaching the masses, they’re preventing us from communicating with our friends and families.
Mark Zuckerberg already knows his employees, like Canadians, are hella racist — which is not surprising considering only 2% of Facebook employees are Black. Last year he issued a statement scolding them for repeatedly defacing references to “Black Lives Matter” found at Facebook headquarters. Clearly that statement didn’t have a profound impact on his company’s culture of racism. If Mark Zuckerberg truly wanted to address Facebook’s diversity issues and end discrimination against Black Facebook users, all he’d have to do is replace his team of lily white moderators with dope ass Black women. It’s not like he doesn’t have resources at his disposal to make this happen. But Mark Zuckerberg doesn’t seem willing to do any of that. He seems content in allowing things to remain as they are. So I’m left to assume it’s because Mark Zuckerberg, well… you know.
Author’s Note: If Mark Zuckerberg sues me over the contents of this piece, I’ll consider it an admission that I was right all along. Checkmate, Zuckerberg.