Content Warning: This essay contains hateful language and racial slurs, used against the author and others
I’ve lost count of the number of times that I have been banned from Facebook, but I can tell you that my last two bans from the popular social media platform were for calling white people “annoying.” Of all the words that I have used to describe the way that white people treat me on social media — their anti-Blackness, their passive aggression, their fragility, their petulance, and their violence — “annoying” is certainly the most tame and most understated.
Community Standards were arbitrarily cited as the reason for removing my posts, as they are with each ban, but I am never told exactly which standards I have supposedly violated. My crime is making white people uncomfortable by writing about racism. That is what I do as a vocal digital activist, and I am proud of it. But white people hate being called racists, almost as much as I hate experiencing their racism.
Facebook’s Community Standards say that users are allowed to challenge systems and promote discussion to raise awareness. They clearly state that users are permitted to share the words of others in order to call attention to them. However, many of the posts that I have been banned for have done exactly that, and posted with clear intention of calling attention to the hatefulness of others. Even when I follow their rules, I am still silenced.
“People can use Facebook to challenge ideas, institutions, and practices. Such discussion can promote debate and greater understanding. Sometimes people share content containing someone else’s hate speech for the purpose of raising awareness or educating others about that hate speech. When this is the case, we expect people to clearly indicate their purpose, which helps us better understand why they shared that content.”
– Facebook’s Community Standards
There was a span of about two weeks where I was essentially locked in a game of Chicken with Facebook. It was Screenshot Inception. By the end of it, the text of the original screenshot that I posted was almost too tiny to even read. Ironically, the original was a screenshot of a status that my friend had been banned for — a status in which she called out Facebook’s racist banning practices, using colorful language.
After I had a post and subsequent article about #MinstrelMiley go viral, I received a tsunami of hateful messages, brimming with misogynoir, anti-Blackness, and fat phobia. Even more messages than usual, with even more vitriol than usual. I shared a screenshot of my inbox “for the purpose of raising awareness or educating others about [their] hate speech” and clearly acknowledged that this was my purpose, but my post was removed.
I reported these to Facebook, using the proper channels laid out in their Help Center. I was told that they could not help me, and directed back to the Help Center, which is where I had gone in the first place.
A few weeks ago, I reported five white people for their anti-Blackness and use of racial slurs in a comment thread after the popular page Cyanide and Happiness posted a comic strip that contained a racial slur. Only one comment was taken down, and it was not the most vile of the collection. I posted screenshots of these comments and one of them was removed as well, even though my documentation of it should not have been removed according to Facebook’s own Community Standards. The others were not found in violation, even though they used an anti-Black racial slur, promoted white supremacy and nationalism, and advocated for state violence against Black citizens. They are included below. I will leave you to guess which one was deemed unacceptable by Facebook.
Allow me to remind you at this juncture that I was banned twice for calling white people “annoying.”
A white friend of mine posted these same words in solidarity and asked one of her friends to report the post to see if it would be removed. It was not. The statement apparently warranted a 3 day ban when I wrote it, but not when a white user repeated it. Not only that, but the very apparent racism from the white users that I reported was not seen as harmful to the community. It’s clear who these Community Standards are for and what community they are meant to protect. Facebook is quick to swoop in and coddle white feelings when they get hurt, but continually neglects to address the legitimate concerns of their Black users.
Facebook openly allows its white users to be actively violent towards Black people (and non-Black people of color, and non-cis, non-heternormative folks). Daily. When we report them, nothing is done about it. And when we write about the racism that we experience, when we express our frustration, and tell difficult truths, we are punished for it.
This is abuse.
My Support Inbox shows only one instance in which I was banned, for posting a drawing of a nude Black woman in which one of her nipples was visible (another conversation entirely). It also has a record of the things that I have reported and whether or not they had been removed. This means that the record is incomplete. I have been banned from Facebook numerous times, and there is only a record of one of those instances available to me. Having an incomplete record in my Support Inbox means that there is no clear documentation that I as a user can see of how I have supposedly violated Community Standards. This also means that their history of reasons for banning me is not visible for me to refer to as evidence of their discriminatory practices concerning my posts. All I have are the screenshots that I happened to take, but I have not always vigilant enough to grab a screenshot for each ban. I shouldn’t have to be. This should not be a worry of mine.
I decided that I wanted a record of every time that I have had a post removed, and I set out to locate contact information for Facebook’s review team. I quickly learned that Facebook does not have any live support, which means that you cannot chat with Support via messenger or speak with a representative on the phone. The options are to report a problem using various types of forms that are not always easy to find, call and get directed to the appropriate department and leave a message, or send an email to the appropriate department, and if you happen to send it to the incorrect one, you either receive an automated message or no return contact at all. Of course, you can also drop them a letter in the post, or show up at their Headquarters. In short, Facebook makes it incredibly difficult for you to contact them with your issues, as is evident to me from my own attempt to report racist messages in my inbox.
But there is even more to this saga. My content has been suppressed since I returned from a 7 day ban last month. Numerous friends have told me that they are seeing less and less of my posts, even though they have my activity set to “See First.”
I and my circle of friends are not the only ones to have noticed this.
I am continuing to write about white supremacy and anti-Blackness and a host of other forms of systemic oppression, but few people are seeing it, despite my large following. Imagine screaming into a void, where the silence itself is deafening. I am talking to an audience who cannot hear me.
A friend shared an article that I wrote for Black Youth Project, a critique of Wonder Woman and the fact that feminist triumph in action thrillers has always been for and about white women. He tagged me and his post was removed and marked as spam.
I’m tired of this. It is exhausting to say the least. And don’t talk to me about algorithms. When the people who write the algorithms are racist, then the algorithms will follow a racist protocol. When Artificial Intelligence is created by people with biases, then the AI will carry those same biases. This is not a technology issue. This is a racism issue, and racism is perpetuated and upheld by people.
A few weeks ago, I was contacted by an investigative reporter who requested to interview me about my experiences with Facebook after learning about my bans. They told me that they spoke with someone at Facebook about my content being removed. The representative said that these removals had been mistakes. However, I received no such communication from Facebook and I only know of one post that has been restored. But restoration is no good to me if it comes without apology, without acknowledgement of responsibility, and without intent to prevent further abuses. Restoration without accountability is hollow.
Several of my other friends have also been contacted by reporters recently, from various publications. All black women. And this is interesting to us because, no one seemed to be interested in this phenomenon aside from Black Facebook users and our supporters until DiDi Delgado wrote “Mark Zuckerberg Hates Black People” for Medium. When you begin to see reports and essays from others on your timelines, especially those legitimating our stories through white knowledge production, remember that a Black woman set it in motion. Thank DiDi for her words and for circulating a petition to raise awareness about this issue.
Black women’s voices are the ones that are primarily being silenced by Facebook’s Community Standards Gatekeepers, along with mostly Black trans users. Our voices are the ones that are always undervalued and Black women are continually forced to be our own saviors — protecting ourselves, loving ourselves, and mothering ourselves. Black women are the reason I’m still here.
Ask any Black Facebook user who has been repeatedly banned for speaking about white supremacy and the violence that they experience from white users on the platform. It takes a toll. Mentally and emotionally. Any victim/survivor of abuse can testify that being continually silenced and isolated is demoralizing, to say the least. Abusers tell you, in so many ways, that your voice is not valued and that your safety is of no importance. Abusers are adept at making you question whether or not you even matter.
I am an introvert with social anxiety. I’m battling other forms of anxiety and depression, largely due to anti-Blackness and dehumanization/devaluing of Black lives. This means that I am sometimes incapable of any form of socializing that requires me to be in the same room with another human being. There are times when social media is the only way that I am able to have any human interaction, maybe for days.
Facebook is where I connect with friends. People in different states and countries. People in different time zones. While some parts of social media can be draining, it can also be affirming. My friends are my support system. Social media is not only where I interact with people, but also were I connect and network with other activists, artists, and writers. It’s where I share my work and amplify other marginalized voices. It’s where I boost fundraisers for causes that I believe in. It’s where I advocate for those who need support and protection. It’s where I share and absorb information that mainstream news outlets do not cover.
Being repeatedly banned from the site for arbitrary reasons can have mental and emotional consequences, as well as professional ones. It comes with the anxiety of not knowing when the hammer will drop. Being hyper-vigilant with screenshots and documentation. Having to always be aware of my Blackness. Having to evaluate how much truth I can tell today.
And whenever I inevitably get yet another ban or one on my friends is banned for their words against white supremacy and the violence that it necessitates, each time it happens, it is yet another reminder of how devalued we are as Black people, and that many do not view us as people at all. Facebook openly allows violence to happen to us, and it does not punish those who enact it, but it does punish us for speaking up about it.
Again. This is abuse.
This mirrors the relationship of Black people with the U.S. criminal justice system. Philando Castille was murdered, in front of his girlfriend and her daughter. Diamond Reynolds recorded the incident live. She put the ugliness of anti-Blackness on display for the whole world to see. She did what Mamie Till did for her son, Emmett — Diamond opened the casket. And yet, the police chose to investigate her.
His murderer walks free, like so many others, because fear of Blackness is apparently enough reason to rip a Black life from this world. Philando and Diamond’s story eviscerates me, as do the stories of Charleena Lyles and Nabra Hassanen, and so many others. With these never-ending stories, I am continually reminded of how little the world cares about us. And I break my own heart, writing about Black life. And death.
The single most illuminating and devastating question that I have ever been asked came from a grad school professor and mentor: “What do we have to forget in order to make it through the day?”
Think about the memories that we have to suppress, the knowledges that we have to push out of our minds, and the traumas that we have to swallow, just to be able to make it through the day without breaking down under the weight of it all. Think of how many tears are shed in private, perhaps with regularity. Hot and stifling. Suffocating. Crushing. After being wholly eviscerated, again and again, by the violence and weight of anti-Blackness, the fractures rupture into full breaks, and we try to heal ourselves from something that never stops hurting us.
Facebook is actively contributing to that hurt. I witness and experience anti-Blackness in my material world on a daily basis, and Facebook continues to hold space for people who subject myself and others to it in the virtual world.
Facebook boasts an unimpressive 3% of Black leadership. As of 2015, it employed 145 Black people. Out of 8,446. That’s less than 2%. Two of its Black employees have filed a racial discrimination lawsuit against the company. The dreadful irony in this is that Mark Zuckerberg was in my city a few months ago. Speaking to Black students. At an HBCU. About diversity. Even more ironic — for lack of a better word — is that Facebook hung a Black Lives Matter banner at its headquarters and made sure that the world knew about its performative allyship. What quickly followed was the defacing of this banner by its racist employees. Perhaps, the better word for this is hypocritical.
Facebook’s anti-Blackness is systemic and deeply ingrained.
This is my story — and only a portion of it. A story that has been pitched to numerous popular online publications, but none were interested in giving me space to tell it. That, of course, is their right. So, here I am.
I am not more important than anyone else who does this work. I do not fancy myself a groundbreaker or influencer. I am not special. There are thousands of others like me, perhaps millions, all with different versions of this same story.
This is what it is like, day to day, being Black on Facebook. Black pain on a loop does not violate Community Standards. Public lynchings by police do not violate Community Standards. White people using variations of racial slurs and advocating for racist violence against people like me does not violate Community Standards. But hurting white people’s feelings does.