For an industry that is so bullheaded, so convinced of its own rightness, social media companies spend an impressive amount of time and energy tying themselves in knots over people who use their platforms to spread hate.
It took years, after all, before Facebook finally made the move, in late March, to ban white nationalism and “white separatism” from its platform. Yet, even last week, when the Toronto-based provocateur Faith Goldy posted a video there warning of a “European demographic replacement” due to an “invasion” by “Africans” and “Middle Eastern immigrants,” the company declined to take a stand.
Which is why it was such a surprise when, on Monday morning, the social media giant suddenly announced it was booting Goldy as well as a handful of similarly xenophobic individuals and groups. Facebook explained its rationale in a statement: “Individuals and organizations who spread hate, attack, or call for the exclusion of others on the basis of who they are have no place [in] our services.” The social media company also said it takes into account the offline activities of those people or groups.
Better late than never, I suppose, though Facebook has been such an appalling corporate citizen – enabling genocide in Myanmar, spreading democracy-destabilizing misinformation in the West, leaving itself vulnerable to repeated hacking – that cheering its last-minute enlightenment feels like patting Hannibal Lecter on the head for declaring himself a vegetarian for a day. But hey: Baby steps, right?
Goldy used to play a journalist for Rebel Media; now she mainly plays a martyr, as she racks up platforms from which she has been banned: She is now persona non grata on Instagram, Facebook, PayPal, Patreon, and Airbnb (despite, she insists, being a model guest), and she claims YouTube has stopped selling ads against her videos. That’s one of the dangers of de-platforming someone like Goldy, who uses the incidents to claim she’s being silenced because she’s so threatening to the powers-that-be. (Sure enough, she spent much of Monday filling her social media feeds with such nonsense.)
Which may be why people such as Twitter’s CEO Jack Dorsey develop feet of clay when faced with Goldy and her ilk.
Last week, Dorsey was in Toronto for a fireside chat with Margaret Atwood moderated by journalist Nam Kiwanuka, who asked him whether Twitter would consider following Facebook’s lead in banning white nationalists. “We’re constantly looking at how to evolve our policies and our rules, and we need to make all these moves with an understanding of how to actually scale them, and if we can," he said, going on to suggest he was actually more focused on trying to prevent people “using the service to silence one other."
And then, as he elaborated, he seemed to suggest that he sympathized with those who have been banned from the platform. “There’s definitely a fear of companies like ours, and people like me in charge of these companies making decisions that affect a big part of the platform, which may or may not affect someone’s ability to speak or have a voice on the service,” he offered. “So, I try to put myself in that place, because it wasn’t too long ago that I was in that place, and I just try to remember where I come from and how I grew up, and what I thought was important and what I was afraid of, as well.”
It’s heartwarming, after so much damage wrought by social media companies’ exuberant rush to take over the world, to finally see their leaders starting to think deeply about their responsibilities. It would be even nicer if Dorsey didn’t seem to equate traditionally voiceless communities with paranoid white nationalists.
But hey: Baby steps, right?