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As I write this, I’m blocked on Facebook, and have been since last Thursday. My personal account, and three pages I run (including MoronWatch) are all blocked to me; so is Facebook messenger. For my thoughtcrime (explained below), I am not allowed to even have private conversations with my friends. If I try to Like a family photo, I’m told my action ‘might be abusive’. Welcome to 1984.
MoronWatch began on Twitter, a platform I have always enjoyed for its free-ranging discussions and ‘promiscuous’ social networking: unlike the rigidity of Facebook, Twitter is a far more interesting and diverse platform, which quickly puts like-minded strangers into contact with each other. Although I began by following people I knew, I quickly found that – unsurprisingly – people I didn’t know were often more interesting.
Most people self-censor heavily on Facebook. We remember that people we know in real life – our boss or our mum, for example – can see our updates, so we dumb ourselves down. On Twitter, we craft new social networks that suit us; on Facebook, our offline social networks come online.
Free speech is liberating and cleansing, but it frightens and infuriates control freaks; for this reason, it is Twitter, and not Facebook, that has faced the greatest calls for censorship. There is a rising War on Twitter, as I outlined in a blog post two years ago. In response to this (and more importantly to Twitter’s poor financial performance), Twitter is reining in free speech, belatedly trying to become as bland – and corporate-friendly – as Facebook.
To paraphrase a great tweet I saw long ago: ‘Twitter makes me love strangers; Facebook makes me hate people I already know’. However, Facebook is by far the more successful platform, and not to use it would be foolish. After ignoring it for a while. MoronWatch started a page there, and that has been growing ever since.
On Thursday, I posted a flyer on my page, which advertised a White Pride rally, planned for Swansea in March. The flyer had originally been shared for discussion by a black friend, and I thought it would be perfect MoronWatch material. Indeed, it generated a long discussion thread, and was shared further. The flyer was pretty vile: although it purported to be promoting a day in which white culture could be celebrated, in practise it attacked immigrants and in particular took aim at ‘Jews and sh*tskins’ (a word I haven’t heard for a while).
I should point out here, for those that aren’t too familiar with this blog, that I’m a Jew, and my lovely partner, and mother of my children, is a sh*tsk… sorry, I mean black person. I’m also an anti-fascist activist, and have been since my teens a few decades ago.
One problem with censorship is that it is necessary dumb. Once the ludicrous concept of ‘hate speech’ had been ruled unacceptable, censors can’t tell the difference between genuinely hateful speech, parody, and discussion of hateful speech. Another problem with censorship is that it simply doesn’t work. Silencing discussion of a problem doesn’t end that problem, it just pushes it into corners where nice, middle-class people can ignore it (or at least, ignore it until it’s too late to do anything about it).
But the biggest problem with censorship is that it comes from a fascistic attitude that societal problems are best dealt with by empowering the state and corporations to silence things we don’t like. Instead of engaging in discussion about racism and other forms of bigotry, we beg the state and corporations to make it all go away, and in doing so, we surrender our ability to deal with problems in our communities. In the 1980s, racism was dealt with by bridging the divides between angry communities. Now instead, we build a virtual wall between the communities, and pretend everything is fine.
Facebook is just one platform, but it is a huge and powerful platform. Increasingly, its methods are leaking into public discourse. Last year, MPs recommended that ‘trolls’ should be banned from using the Internet. Presumably, this would include people like me, who try to counter far-right extremism online. We are stepping over the threshold from democracy into dictatorship, and doing so under the guise of ‘defending liberal values’. But the most fundamental of liberal values is free speech. No-ifs, no-buts, warts-n-all.
How can we deal with fascism if we can’t talk about it?
Facebook provides no due process. My right to free expression has been curtailed for five days, and there is apparently no right to appeal or any form of fair trial. My only recourse was to complain, which I did – below is the message I sent to Big Brother – sorry, I mean Facebook’s support team.
I am a Jewish anti-racism campaigner with a black partner and mixed-race children. I shared a white supremacist flyer on my page (which promoted a planned march in Swansea) in order to alert people to the nature of this group, allow discussion, and help plan a fightback. For this, I was blocked for propagating ‘hate speech’.
Your action demonstrates the sheer fuck-witted stupidity of all censorship regimes, including your own. Your moderators cannot possibly understand the context and nuance of every post, and clearly can’t tell the difference between ‘racism’ and ‘discussion of racism’. In suppressing discussion of such vital issues at a time when fascism is rising in Europe, YOU are contributing to the rise of fascism. YOU feed into conspiracy theories on the far-right that aids its recruitment and YOU make life for minorities (like my family) more difficult and potentially more dangerous.
Clap for yourselves
PS: I reluctantly self-censored the word sh*tskins in this post. I don’t believe in such censorship. It does nothing to counter racism; it merely exists to protect the easily-offended – who appear mostly, in my experience, to be uptight white middle-class people.