On June 6th this year, I uploaded a post to a feminist Facebook page. It was a response to a shooting in Darwin the night before, in which a gunman had killed four people.
The post highlighted a press conference held by Northern Territory Chief Minister Michael Gunner, in which he claimed the shooting was “not terrorism-related”. Specifically, he said: “I understand when an event like this occurs, especially considering recent global events, people’s fears turn to terrorism. I can confirm that we do not believe this is a terrorism incident”.
This comment angered many people because feminists have been saying loudly, for years, that shootings and other violent attacks ARE terrorism.
If someone is using violence to highlight a political or religious view: it’s terrorism.
Accompanying the post, I published a meme that read, in capital letters, EVERY TIME A WHITE MALE KILLS TERRIFIED PEOPLE IN COLD BLOOD IT IS DEFINITELY MALE TERRORISM. STOP FUCKING CLAIMING IT ISN’T.
Apart from the swearing, in my view, the post was reasonably innocuous. Nobody can argue with the statistics about which group are committing most of the mass killings.
Occasionally, of course, women kill, and sometimes men of different races do, too. But, most often, particularly in recent times, the perpetrators have been white men with white supremacist grievances.
Conversations about this are critical. Is the rise in hate crime associated with racist slogans like ‘Build That Wall’ and ‘send them back’ gaining in popularity in the UK, in Australia, Britain and elsewhere?
If we can’t name and discuss this issue, we can’t hope to reduce the bloodshed.
For those reasons, I felt the post I shared was not only fair, but important.
Facebook, and its wholly-owned subsidiary Instagram, disagreed. Last week I received a message from Instagram saying the post had been deleted for “hate speech”, and that a similar future transgression may result in the page being removed.
Three days later, I received another message from Facebook. This time, the same post was removed because it “contravened community standards”, and again, I was told the page might be closed down.
Not only that but I’ve been banned from using my personal profile for seven days, as punishment.
I know what’s happened here, and why. Ever since I began working at online feminist pages, they’ve been targeted at different times by groups including 4chan and 8chan. These are, in effect, white supremacist hate groups, and they’re the same places mass killers have posted their videos and manifestos before their rampages. The New Zealand gunman did exactly this, for example, and so did the El Paso shooter.
These groups are dark swamps of racism and horror. They appear to hate anyone who isn’t white, and as well as women and other minorities. It is unsurprising that they attack feminist pages en masse, calling on thousands of their supporters to deluge pages with disgusting comments and photos.
The attacks can be so vicious pages close down (which is the obvious aim), but at the very least they distract administrators and keep them busy moderating attacks, so they can’t operate their page.
The same online groups attack feminist websites using DDOS technology, sometimes destroying expensive equipment and making it impossible to keep up communication.
Worst of all, they dox administrators of pages and sometimes harass them personally, which often causes these people to decide the risks of being involved in such activism isn’t worth it.
This is all, of course, designed to hurt, harass, threaten and silence people trying to oppose white supremacism, and obstruct their message. And here’s the thing: it works. In my view Facebook and Instagram are both so poorly run and their rules so badly implemented, that too often these games played by dangerous nationalists who mass-report posts succeed.
I’ve been dealing with this for years, ever since I became heavily involved in women’s activism. For the most part, my colleagues and I take it on the chin. It’s enraging and unfair, of course, to be required to do battle with such despicable humans but we get used to it.
However even I was gobsmacked that this group successfully damaged the page I work for on the very same day another man killed 20 people and injured 26 more in Texas. The irony is mind-boggling.
Even worse is that I can’t even re-publish the deleted post or explain to followers exactly what happened. Doing that could result in the page being permanently shut down, since it will be mass-reported again.
Nor can I even talk to anyone at Facebook, or take any action other than just put up with it. This is disorienting and difficult to accept, and such injustice causes amazing activists to burn out and disappear. Of course, this leaves fewer people to keep fighting for justice and enables even more hate to flourish.
Unless more people come to understand how Facebook and Instagram operate and how they specifically assist white supremacism by censoring those opposing it, these terrible crimes and mass shootings will continue, and probably increase. Police and law enforcement services all over the world spend billions tracking and fighting religious terrorism, but far less about this far more common, and statistically far more dangerous, white supremacism.
The end result of this increasing racial and misogynistic rhetoric is clear.
Young, white men are killing people in cold blood too often. Too many men are essentially being radicalised by their peers, and if progressive thought is censored, they see nothing to effectively counter this process. Their ranks grow larger, their beliefs more emboldened.
This should be terrifying to everyone.
There’s much to be done to counter this sinister activity. Some people are beginning to actively support progressive organisations and media with money, time and energy, as a way to keep their voices heard.
This is great, but it must be accompanied by government action forcing online platforms to do far more to counter this hate speech. These platforms are powerful and have the resources to reverse this chilling trend, but they must be made to do it. The internet is not going back in its box, and it’s being used in ways that are highly destructive.
In 1935, Hitler silenced the media to achieve his aims.
In 2019, whether it’s intentional or not, social media is effectively silencing many voices and enabling hate speech to spread.
Of course, social media isn’t the only problem but it’s even less-regulated than traditional media and, as such, it’s more prone to manipulation.
Facebook isn’t going away, and closing our social media accounts and pages won’t help, because not enough people will follow suit.
In any case, if progressives disappear from these platforms they’ll only become even more of a cess-pit for hate. The only solution is legislation, forced by the will of those of us who’ve had enough of the carnage.
This is, quite specifically, a war. It’s a war for the right to equality of brown and gay and female and disabled bodies, and it cannot be lost.
Facebook, Instagram, Twitter: it’s time to get on the right side of history.
Are you going to do it?