Amid widespread harassment scandals, Facebook bans women for writing "men are scum"

Women who have posted variations of "men are scum" have received suspensions from Facebook

By Charlie May

Published December 6, 2017 2:31PM (EST)

 (AP/Noah Berger)
(AP/Noah Berger)

Facebook has recently been banning women on their social media network, citing "hate speech" against men after they had posted the phrase "men are scum" or variations of it. The news comes amid several sexual harassment allegations against powerful men, most notably in the media, Hollywood and U.S. Congress.

Even though Facebook's Chief Operating Officer Sheryl Sandberg has warned of women facing backlash for speaking out, the site has repeatedly suspended women users for posting about men as a group, the Guardian reported.

After writing a comment that read "men are scum," the New York-based comedian Marcia Belsky was banned for 30 days in October, according to the Guardian. Belsky wrote the comment on a photo album posted by her friend, Nicole Silverberg, who had detailed the abuse she received after originally posting about how men should treat women better.

Belsky had been banned before, which makes her more susceptible to being penalized, because Facebook operates on an "escalation policy" which increases the punishments for repeated violations of community guidelines, the Guardian reported.

But Belsky is far from the only woman singled out for such language, as comedian Kayla Avery has also said she's been suspended for comments including, "men are garbage fires," "the worst," "trash," along with other variations.

Avery created a community project called "Facebook Jailed," which highlights stories from women who have posted similar comments, the Guardian reported. Another private Facebook group of roughly 500 female comedians gathered for a protest on Nov. 24 in which they collectively wrote comments similar to "men are scum" at the same time. Nearly all participants were met with a ban.

Facebook is not just banning women for new comments. Avery and comedian Elsa Waithe have claimed that older posts in their timeline about men had also been deleted. This happened even after Facebook reinstated some comments and admitted Belsky's bans were a mistake.

Facebook has said that hate speech and threats directed towards a protected group are in violation of its guidelines, which is why comments women have posted about men have been deleted. The site's "'protected categories' are based on race, gender, religion, ethnicity, sexual orientation and other factors," the Guardian reported. "Men are scum" has been deemed a threat by the social-media network and have therefore been removed. However, ProPublica reported that users who instead use subsets of "protected categories" have been able to get away with certain comments or posts. ProPublica elaborated:  

The reason is that Facebook deletes curses, slurs, calls for violence and several other types of attacks only when they are directed at “protected categories”—based on race, sex, gender identity, religious affiliation, national origin, ethnicity, sexual orientation and serious disability/disease. It gives users broader latitude when they write about “subsets” of protected categories. White men are considered a group because both traits are protected, while female drivers and black children, like radicalized Muslims, are subsets, because one of their characteristics is not protected.
Facebook moderators also "see content in isolation," meaning that the context of the message is not always clear, nor is the person in question or their prior actions, the Guardian reported. This has allowed for many women who are responding to hateful, or abusive posts to be slapped with a penalty, while the other users using clearly inflammatory or racist language are not.

Again, as we have seen with Twitter's tepid response to race-baiting on its platform (the posts of President Donald Trump included), there seems to be a system of checks and balances in place that often punishes those fighting against the supremacy in its various forms while allowing those targeting disenfranchised groups to promote hate speech. Perhaps this is a technical problem that just needs to be ironed out. Or perhaps this happens because the monitors themselves have false notions about what does and does not constitute hate speech (or, indeed, agree with the hateful comments).

Whatever the case, Facebook — led by two activated progressives who give significant money to and speak persuasively about women's rights and equality — is failing here.

Charlie May

MORE FROM Charlie MayFOLLOW @charliejmay

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Facebook Me Too Men Are Scum #metoo Sexual Harassment Social Media Tech Twitter