Facebook Apologizes for Banning Paragraph From Black Woman’s Book

Facebook deleted a post by the user that copied and pasted a paragraph from the book ‘The Becky Code’—before admitting it was a mistake.

Photo Illustration by Elizabeth Brockway/The Daily Beast

Facebook removed a quote from a book from a black blogger’s personal page for allegedly violating their community standards.

Last Thursday, Layla Saad shared a long quote from the book The Becky Code: How to Deal with White Woman Violence by Amplifying Your Joy by Catrice M. Jackson.

“Simply put, white women have mastered how to ignore, silence, discount, and violate black, brown, Native and indigenous women, just like white men do to them. And these same white men have also placed Becky on an untouchable pedestal deeming her superior to non-white women,” the quote began.

A quick scan of Saad’s profile, who is followed by 3,000 people, shows the poet and writer comments on race, diversity, and her experiences as a woman of color, particularly on her blog Wild Mystic Woman. Many of them discuss black women, white women, and racial power dynamics. This time, it somehow got her post taken down.

Saad wrote a follow-up post, but that didn’t last long either.

“A white woman nonsense incident yesterday,” Saad had written. “A racist experience for my daughter today. And on top of that, spiritual white women bringing their violent bypassing into my space to make me question if what happened actually happened, and questioning how can I change MY behaviour, instead of white people changing theirs.”

That post was also taken down by both Facebook and Instagram, which is owned by Facebook. Each time, Facebook claimed the statuses violated the company’s Community Standards, which states that it has the right to remove posts or suspend accounts that it feels pose “a genuine risk of physical harm or direct threats to public safety.”

A source at Facebook confirmed that, after an investigation, the company determined the removal of Saad’s post was a “mistake” and reinstated it. Saad confirmed on Jan. 19 that Facebook reached out to her and apologized for their error.

Facebook told The Daily Beast in a statement that “sometimes we get things wrong.” The company explained that the post evaluation process often entails millions of reports this week alone—most of which are reported by users themselves—and it’s not perfect.

“The post was mistakenly removed. As soon as we were notified of the problem, we investigated and restored the post upon determining that it did not violate our Community Standards,” Facebook’s spokesperson wrote. “Our team processes millions of reports each week, and sometimes we get things wrong. The post has been restored since it didn’t violate our standards. We’ve informed Layla Saad of the restoration and apologized for the error.”

Those who witnessed Saad’s debacle with the platform said this isn’t an isolated incident. Long before Saad’s posts were taken down, people of color on Twitter, including Young Turks columnist Shaun King, have reported Facebook swiftly removing their posts calling out racial injustice, but failing to remove what they considered abusive or hate speech posts from white users. In King’s case, he shared a racist email someone had sent to him.

Users have claimed to be banned from the platform after participating in debates in comment sections. Other Facebook pages run by people of color say their communities were shut down after allegations of excess abuse reports from outside users.

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The social platform admits on its FAQ page that they rely heavily on the “community” to alert them to questionable posts.

Gee Lowery, who writes for the black culture blog Onyx Truth, claimed in March 2016 that he was banned for a comment thread wherein he wondered how Trump will tackle ISIS when the president wouldn’t go to Chicago. He also claimed a user remained active after allegedly telling a black woman he wished she were gang raped.

Tracie Powell, a senior fellow with Democracy Fund and founder of All Digitocracy, a site that focuses on media and its impact on diverse communities, told The Daily Beast that she’s seen entire black-run pages shut down.

“Facebook has shut down whole pages and groups that discuss race because those ‘safe spaces’ are often targeted by assholes who mass report them,” she said in a private Facebook message.

Facebook pointed to its “Hard Questions” FAQ page, published on June 27 of last year, that reiterates their policy for race-related posts, and how they determine if they’re in violation of the policy. In short, those in charge of taking down posts look at context and intent—but that’s all they can do.

“With billions of posts on our platform—and with the need for context in order to assess the meaning and intent of reported posts—there’s not yet a perfect tool or system that can reliably find and distinguish posts that cross the line from expressive opinion into unacceptable hate speech,” Richard Allan, VP EMEA Public Policy at Facebook, wrote on the page.

Of course, the problem isn’t limited to people of color. Facebook went to court over whether it was doing enough to prevent terrorist content from appearing on the platform. The site has also banned women for calling men “scum.”

A breakdown of users by Cameron Marlow, a visiting scholar at Stanford University, shows that the racial demographics of Facebook users nearly reflect the racial breakdown of the country as of 2009. Reporting may be a different story, however, as is the unbalanced racial makeup of Facebook’s employees themselves: Just 2 percent of its global employees are black.

“Anecdotally, it does seem as if this kind of thing happens more often with people of color on social media,” journalist Melissa Eversley told The Daily Beast. She said she’s seen black Facebook friends have posts taken down.

Last February, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg specifically addressed in an essay the spread of “fake news” and hate speech. “In a free society, it’s important that people have the power to share their opinion, even if others think they’re wrong. Our approach will focus less on banning misinformation, and more on surfacing additional perspectives and information,” he wrote.

Facebook didn’t say who took the post down or give a reason for its removal.

In her last public post, Saad confirmed she was “out of Facebook jail” and has a lot to say, but refused to do so on the platform.

“Not in this space where my words are not safe. Where I am not safe,” she wrote.

Saad did not respond to request for comment.