How do we make the rules?

I recently read a post bemoaning how people are getting 24 hour bans from Facebook for posting “Cathy Brennan is a fake goth” memes, and anti-racist pages are taken down, while all kinds of prejudicial people and groups are free to post hateful remarks.

For those who didn’t catch this phenomenon when it came through a little while ago, Cathy Brennan is a trans-exclusionary “radical feminist” (also known as a terf). This means, she doesn’t believe trans women are women. Moreover, she has used her significant following to harass and out a number of people including trans girls.

Why is this relevant?

I see a lot of discussion about how Facebook unfairly removes some posts and blocks or bans some people. This article sites a number of examples, and there are plenty more out there that are pretty terrible.

Part of the reason why this happens isn’t individual prejudice, however, its flawed policy. Obviously there’s also plenty of individual prejudice and a massive flawed system to blame, but let us consider some of the problems in that system.

Facebook’s terms of service (rules that say what you are/not allowed to do on/with their software) specifically say you can’t target individuals. Some of the sites being blocked do so including a number of activist pages that are trying to point out racism and other prejudices. That’s why posts and entities that have hurtful and prejudicial content are unaffected- there’s no rule against being an asshole to entire groups of people.

The problem, of course, is that targeting groups of people happens in a context where certain groups are more vulnerable than others and subject to real consequences from these prejudices, not in the least of which is the effect of seeing prejudiced remarks directed against oneself, but including up to the instigation of hate crimes and prejudicial policy.

This is a topic I’m personally interested in, so I’ve been thinking a great deal about the questions it raises.

For example: if anti racist or otherwise “activist” groups/media/entities are encouraging harassment, is that something that should be ok? Where do we draw the line? Personally, I don’t think we should be drawing the line between people who we may and may not dox/harass/etc. After all, I’ve seen many attacks on marginalized individuals who are prejudiced towards others, against people who are misunderstood, who don’t have access to certain political frameworks or are unfamiliar with language and terminology.

On the other hand, there have been a number of cases where people such as police, teachers and social workers have made public prejudicial statements that have been reported to their employers and gotten them fired because of the backlash, because people were concerned their prejudices are hurting people over whom they have authority.

Some people would say this is a worthwhile and effective strategy. However, I think it only serves to target those who are openly racist/otherwise showing their overt prejudices.

Another example where people have been fired when their social media activity has been reported to their employers or relevant authorities, is in cases of abuse by caretakers, particularly of disabled or elderly patients who cannot themselves report the abuse.

In this case, we are only targeting people who have already been abusers.

As above, we can also only target people who were ignorant enough to post this kind of disgusting behavior in a public space.

What I think is far more important, is to address how common these prejudices and abuses are throughout the system. We cannot rely on people to reveal their abuses, we must build up systems where they and their peers, whether that means home care workers, cops or teachers, will not only learn how to treat people well but to notice and intervene when their peers fail to do so.


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