Keeping Facebook Safe

I have an issue with how Facebook handles censorship of posts and comments, and I am concerned about its priorities in terms of making Facebook a safe place for its users and not just a cash cow for advertisers.

Let me preface this by stating the irrefutable fact that free speech has and needs limits. Certainly posts that incite terrorism, hate and/or violence should be immediately flagged and removed. Disinformation? Perhaps. I’m not sure. That requires subjective judgement which I think should be left to users discretion and our ability to block those we strongly disagree with.

I am an avid and prolific Facebook user with some 2k “friends.” We support one another with virtual hugs, birthday wishes, prayers in time of need and solace on the loss of loved ones and pets. While I am politically opinionated, I share those opinions mostly with friends, not the public, to avoid arguments. I have never suggested or cheered on violence nor am I proponent of conspiracy theories of any kind. Yet, my account was recently restricted for the second time with no explanation other than that something I posted “violated Facebook policy.” Here is the notice I received:

You recently posted something that violates Facebook policies, so you’re temporarily blocked from using this feature. For more information, visit the Help Center.

To keep from getting blocked again, please make sure you’ve read and understand Facebook’s Community Standards.

The block will be active for 6 days.

If you think this doesn’t go against our Community Standards let us know.

Note that the message does not reveal what policy was violated nor does it show what was posted that was in violation. I am— as are others this happens to do — unable to go back and look at the comments made on the dates mentioned because they’ve been deleted. I honestly have no idea what I posted or commented that triggered their algorithm. I, of course, clicked the “let us know” link and sent a request for additional information. As of this writing, I received no reply.

It’s unhelpful to not allow an accused, judged, “convicted” and punished users to know the alleged wrongdoing committed. Wouldn’t you want them to know so they would not unknowingly commit the same violation once reinstated?

Facebook is social media. It connects people, many of whom — such as myself — live in isolation due to mental, and/or physical disabilities, or due to high risk of COVID complications.

Like many Facebook users, a primary reason I am on Facebook, in addition to finding an connecting with long-lost friends, is to network. I thus belong to many Facebook groups that connect me to others who share a commonality. I am a member of adoption search and support groups which offer practical advice to help those separated by adoption find their kin and navigate reunion. I am also in groups that connect me with the “adoption community” to share adoption-related loss, pain, trauma, struggles and solutions with others who have walked in their shoes in the hope of finding understanding, comfort and perhaps some healing. And I belong to groups of adoption activists seeking to change draconian laws that seal away people’s true and accurate vital birth records — and thus medical history — and replace them with falsified birth certificates claiming they were born to unrelated strangers. This networking is important to me.

In addition, I belong to multiple groups dealing with physical issues I face, such as painful and debilitating chronic autoimmune diseases, chronic back pain and coronary issues. Many mebers of these groups speak of having family who do not understand their often invisible illnesses, unsupportive partners or not wanting to burden family or friends.

These groups offer support, compassion and empathy in addition to practical suggestions and are a lifeline. I belong to singles groups and a group simply called “aging” because I am 77 and aging alone sucks! All of this is in addition to a life full of family, friends both old and new, membership in a spiritual community, and wonderful neighbor/friends — none of whom however share the specific needs filled by Facebook groups which provide vital lifelines. I can only imagine the myriad of folks — some homebound — who depend solely on Facebook for such vital connections.

Currently, when I try to post or comment in any of these groups I am stopped withe a pop up informing me

“This Feature is Temporarily Blocked” again wiht just the vague reason that something I did that violated “Facebook’s Community Standards” but nothing specific.

Cutting users off from what for some is their only connection with other human interaction is cruel, and befuddling when no clear and accurate explanation is provided. Cutting users off, users who may be unstable or very needy, could lead to dire consequences. I thus urge Facebook to provide users who violate policy the right to know how and why they did so, so as 1) not to push anyone who might be fragile or prone to violence over the edge, and 2) to allow sane uses the opportunity to not unknowingly commit the same offense again.

Letting users know what they did that crossed a line would keep Facebook a safer place for all.

Isn’t that the goal? Shouldn’t it be?

Another Facebook safety issue was brought to light by recent Daily Kos article in which Sarah Hogg. This one involes not posts to be shared with friend or the public, but private messages. Hogg notes:

“Facebook Messenger is an important platform for me to stay in touch with people I love. It’s my primary method of communication with my parents, and we send updates about everything from doctor’s appointments to pictures of our pets to family news.

“When I send a Facebook message, I don’t expect anyone to read it except for me and the recipient.”

The article went on to call for a stop to Facebook’s policy of reporting private messages to authorities, highlighting a case involving a 17-year-old who was suspected of acquiring abortion pills. I am appalled by such a politically partisan witch hunt. Such invasive spying of users’ private messages by Facebook is a despicable over-reach of a social media platform. “Turning in” those who violate highly unpopular and contested laws is abhorrent and reminiscent of what was done by the KKK and in Germany during the Holocaust.

“The teen, now 18, is facing criminal charges and is being tried as an adult — even though the alleged abortion would have occurred before Roe was overturned. The teen’s mother and a third individual also face charges.”

Included is a link to a petition calling for Facebook to stop policing and reporting private messages it disagrees with and to encrypt private messages as is done on other messaging platforms such as Signal and WhatsApp.

As I write this my body is wracked with pain. My right index finger with which I type is one of the few body parts I’m able to move without pain. I miss my support groups which allow me to vent and offer understanding for bad days such as this, but I am excluded — jailed, in-prisoned — deprived of such support for an unknown offense. Not told what I was charged with or why, and thus unable to ensure that I might not unitentionally commit the same offense. Wouldn’t you want people to know what crosses the line and breaks the rules?

Facebook needs to be a SAFE place for all users.



Author, Activist; @MirahRiben

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