Facebook is getting itself a bit of a reputation for banning posts and pages with innocuous gay content, and then having to backpedal furiously when it sparks an outcry. It’s happened again, this time to Del Shores, a producer on Queer As Folk who’s also helmed films like Sordid Lives and the recent Southern Baptist Sissies.
On his Facebook page, Shores posted in response to court victories overturning the gay marriage ban in Pennsylvania, ‘AN EMOTIONAL MOMENT FOR ME TODAY! I’m not sure that all of you know that I wrote for and was one of the producers of Queer as Folk for the last three seasons. Today, a fan pointed out that Debbie can now marry Carl! Why? Because in one episode of QAF – when Carl asked Debbie to marry him, she said she would not until gay marriage was legal in Pennsylvania. How amazing! I wrote the writers: ‘Debbie and Carl can get married!’ — and my good friend Michael MacLennan wrote me this: ‘And what a heady time. In those Dark Days of Bush (and not the positive and life-affirming variety) we’d have never imagined that less than ten years later, such progress as this would be happening.’ I teared up. It’s an amazing time in history! Love you all!’
A while afterwards he discovered a message from Facebook saying, ‘We removed something your page posted’ as it supposedly violated ‘Facebook Community Standards’. He was also informed he wouldn’t be able to post anything for 30 days.
Shores then appealed the ban, writing, ‘Dear Facebook:
‘Please tell me what in my post that you removed, then suspended me from posting for thirty days, does not “follow Facebook Community Standards”.
‘First and foremost, I LOVE FACEBOOK. It is an amazing way to connect to my fans. I buy ads for my shows daily and have a very active page. Thank you Facebook for my page. I mean that sincerely. I love connecting with friends and fans. Even while suspended, my ads are still running, and I am gladly paying for them.
‘In that, there is a flaw in your system. The particular offending post was attacked by a few religious bigots, one who railed on the gay community by quoting scripture after scripture. Many fans commented back, and I ultimately banned and blocked him, deleting his hateful comments in the name of the Lord. But apparently not before he and his trolls reported my page.
‘It seems to me, since this is the third time this has happened to me (and all “offending” posts or pictures were not offensive in any way AND you never would respond to my complaints or reverse the suspensions) that whomever is in charge of suspending does not look at the “offending” posts or pictures. They simply trust those reporting.
‘I cannot believe that Facebook is homophobic. Otherwise, many of us would be gone long ago. Although with the recent press of you suspending an Italian woman for posting a pro-gay rights picture of two women kissing citing “she had violated FB rules on ‘nudity and pornography’”, along with you removing my post — you are getting that reputation. [Includes line to Metro.]
‘Yes, I can still post via my administrators. BUT, it is a hassle. And this suspension is simply wrong!
‘Please do the right thing!’
After refusing to comment, 48 hours later Facebook overturned the ban and spokesperson Meg Sinclair told Global News the move was “a mistake”, and that Facebook would reach out to Shores to apologise.
The filmmaker responded, “I will be talking to Meg Sinclair of Facebook soon as she has reached out to me to apologize on behalf of Facebook.
“The suspension was wrong! It was antigay. It was siding with religious nuts who troll my page daily, trying to silence me. And I had to take the risk of losing this page in order to expose what had happened.”
Facebook’s issue seems to be that it has tried to automate its removal procedure. What appears to take place is that is someone complains about a post and an automated algorithm decides whether to remove it, without human intervention. Inevitably this means mistakes happen, especially if, like many other similar systems, it’s particularly sensitive to gay content (despite protestations that their systems aren’t specifically anti-gay, many companies nevertheless still seem to work on a presumption that anything gay is NSFW, until proven otherwise).
The automation that appears to take place with Facebook was a response to earlier criticism that it wasn’t dealing with offensive posts quickly enough, particularly in regards to pornography and bullying. However it definitely appears that it’s too sensitive to all things LGBT, and until they sort things out it’s going to continue to make stupid mistakes like this. At the very least, if removal is going to take place without human intervention, they need to be able consider appeals much faster.