Monika Bickert, Facebook’s Head of Global Product Policy and Justin Osofsky, their Vice President of Global Operations co-wrote this letter about Facebook’s Community Standards. Among the principles they claim Facebook is guided by are:
Keeping you safe. We have zero tolerance for any behavior that puts people in danger, whether someone is organizing or advocating real-world violence or bullying other people. Requiring people to use their authentic identity on Facebook helps motivate all of us to act responsibly, since our names and reputations are visibly linked to our words and actions.
Yet after 1,000s of user reports, the Facebook page Families Against Autistic Shooters remains up. The user ID behind the page is “AutismKills” which indicates the position the page takes. It isn’t against “Autistic Shooters” as claimed but against autistics. There are repeated false and inflammatory claims on the page of a causal link between autism and mass murder. The page openly suggests autistics should be feared and implies incarceration or euthanasia of the entire population as a response to mass shootings.
And while Bickert and Osofsky claim Facebook’s real name policy protects users, the page is completely anonymous. There is no accountability whatsoever to the person responsible except through Facebook’s community reporting.
And how did that reporting go? Report after report is met with boiler plate text explaining that the page does NOT violate Facebook Community Standards.
- Nothing on the page is directed at a specific individual so it doesn’t violate the Direct Threat clause.
- It falls short of qualifying as a criminal or terrorist group so doesn’t rise to the requirements of the Dangerous Organization clause.
- The Bullying and Harassment clause requires that the actions identify a specific, private individual.
- The lack of threats to specific individuals does not trigger the Attacks on Public Figures clause.
- No overt criminal acts are proposed.
But this page and others like it DO serve to make Facebook unsafe for autistic people. It identifies an entire disability population as the pool from which mass murders are produced. It suggests that if we did away with autistics, we will be able to stop mass murder.
Does the page make autistics unsafe?
- It causes direct emotional harm to autistics who encounter the page.
- It fosters open hostility towards autistic people far beyond the source page.
- It emboldens people to take real-life actions against autistics.
- It diminishes job opportunities for autistic people by implying risk.
- It perpetuates a climate of sympathy for parents who murder their autistic children.
- It dehumanizes autistics as unworthy of any basic human rights, especially that of safety.
- It diminishes the chance for autistics to participate in society at whatever level they are capable.
This last is doubly unfortunate because many in the autistic community make their closest bonds online. Some are non-verbal, others socially anxious to the point of disability. The ability to compose posts at one’s own pace fosters a dialog between autistics, their community, and the rest of the world. If there is one place autistics can function as part of a community, it is online in the digital world.
Except that this is also the venue within which bigots can organize communities of hate against autistics. The truth is that autistics are far more likely to be victims of violence than to perpetrate it. I nearly lost my own life to school bullies on two occasions. They were supported by a climate of acceptance which saw their actions as acceptable. This Facebook page perpetuates and amplifies that very climate of tolerance of violence and discrimination against a vulnerable population.
Ms. Bickert and Mr. Osofsky, you have failed to live up to the promise of zero tolerance for behavior that puts people at risk.
Your policy of narrowly defining risk as that which applies to specific named individuals has utterly failed the autistic community.
Your Real Name policy has failed us by allowing the page administrator to post anonymously with complete immunity from consequences.
Your narrow definition of bullying, hate speech and Zero Tolerance has failed the world’s entire autistic population all at once.
Your Community Reporting Mechanism has failed us this weekend by the thousands.
You say that “our goal is to create an environment where we don’t need a lot of rules, and people on Facebook feel motivated and empowered to treat each other with empathy and respect.”
So long as the administrators of pages like Families Against Autistic Shooters have no incentive to treat others with the promised empathy and respect, then you, personally Ms. Bickert and Mr. Osofsky, have failed us.
As an autistic person whose job prospects and safety both online and off are directly harmed as a result of this page, you have personally also failed me.
I hope that you will consider how Facebook’s Community Standards might be improved to cover bullying and harassment of vulnerable groups in addition to whatever protections are now afforded to individuals.