Why Am I Blocked On Facebook?

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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.

The Great Unfriending

It’s official: I’m a very rare breed of social media user.

A scientific study of Twitter interactions on climate change discovered that almost all people who tweet about climate change are only listened to by people who already agree with them. Or to put it another way, they’re probably wasting their time. The people who bridge the gap between the two sides are so unusual that some are listed by name. They include Richard Betts of the Met Office, New York Times environment writer Andy Revkin, “… and an account named @moronwatch”.

This isn’t to say that I’m ambivalent on climate change: I’ve often taken the piss out of climate change deniers on this blog, as well as on Twitter and Facebook. So I was very proud to learn that I’m one of the tiny minority that has had the opportunity to change minds on climate change.

But beyond my personal little triumph, the finding is profoundly depressing. Increasingly, and globally, people on social media are building themselves tight little echo chambers. After May’s general election, I saw a spate of updates from Facebook friends, proudly boasting of unfriending Tory voters. Then, following the historic and wonderful Supreme Court decision last week that finally brought gay marriage to all 50 US states, it happened again. People who should have been overjoyed (and magnanimous in victory) instead showing off that they had deleted friends who expressed concerns over the judgement.

But why? What purpose is served by deleting someone with opposing views? If one holds a view strongly, surely one also wants to influence other people’s views too? That, after all, is why I blog, at times, about climate change: because it’s an important issue, and it’s important to change minds.

And likewise, I want to challenge homophobic, racist and other views I encounter. I have many black friends on Facebook, many of whom are religious; black Christians (in my experience) are far more likely to express homophobic, or at least anti-gay marriage views (it’s debatable whether these are the same thing or not). Last week I witnessed anti-gay marriage comments from three Facebook friends – all black Christians. In each case I could have unfriended, or just ignored. But this issue matters to me, so in each case I responded, and made similar points: 1) I disagree with you, 2) I respect (and will defend) your right to hold your views, 3) I’m open to further discussion and would like to change your mind.

In interacting with these three people, I believe I did far more for the cause of combatting homophobia than did any person that decided to delete “homophobic friends” on the basis of their own supposed “tolerance”. In fact, if anybody turned back the clock on gay rights, it was those people who witnessed homophobic views, and decided to ignore them.

To delete “homophobes”, “racists” and other evildoers is to create a childlike view of the world in which every person can be stamped with a simple label of either good or evil. It denies the existence of shades of grey, or the fact that good people can be flawed. It is the action, not of a liberal or tolerant person, but of a self-centred and selfish individual. It expresses a simple belief that so long as MY view of the world is shiny and nice, then the world is a shiny and nice place. It is an abrogation of responsibility to improve the world. I’ll go further: by burning bridges, it makes the world a worse place, building up walls between increasingly hostile tribes.

Ironically, most of the people I personally encounter expressing racist, anti-Semitic, Islamophobic, sexist, transphobic or homophobic views are black. To selectively cleanse my friends would be to make my circle whiter. Most of the “liberals” I see deleting friends have almost exclusively white, middle-class social circles. What kind of liberal doesn’t extend their social networks beyond their own narrow social and racial groups?

How do you tackle racism, if your world-view says you must unfriend anyone expressing what you consider to be a racist view? How do you deal with homophobia if you won’t talk to homophobes? By deleting friends, you reveal yourself as intolerant, closed-minded and apathetic. You show yourself incapable of, and disinterested in, making the world a better place.

In 1984, Orwell wrote about doublethink, which twisted the meanings of words beyond recognition. Aptly, this was a creed of English Socialism – INGSOC – which had taken left-wing values and twisted them to mean the exact opposite of their original meaning. An INGSOC slogan was: “War is Peace; Freedom is Slavery; Ignorance is Strength”.

Let’s add one more to that: Intolerance is Tolerance. By turning on the minority opposed to gay marriage, today’s mob is no different from any other majority that hated any other minority. In this case, the mob is more likely than the average to be white, middle-class and well educated. A white, privileged mob shunning and marginalising a poorer, darker minority. Ring any bells? Same shit, different era.