In one of the greatest Saturday Night Live skits, a spoof toy advertisement attempts to sell the audience on a product called Happy Fun Ball. The joke comes when the actual portions of the ad devoted to talking up the toy are eclipsed by increasingly surreal product safety warnings tinged with Lovecraftian horror. The funniest, and most infamous, of these is the warning, “Do not taunt Happy Fun Ball.”
I bring this up because judging by the experiences of my long-time friend, the young nationalist firebrand Lauren Southern, Facebook has a similar warning in its terms of service.
Allow me to explain the situation: Lauren recently celebrated President Trump’s temporary suspension of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) Obama-era executive order by posting a cartoon mocking so-called “DREAMers” for acting like Mexican nationalists while in America, only to scream in terror when sent to the country they allegedly love. The cartoon still survives on Twitter, though Facebook is another story, as you’ll soon see.
The point of the cartoon, to anyone whose brain is not fried by social justice, is obvious: If you’re going to move here, let alone illegally, you should at least not slander your adoptive country, and you certainly shouldn’t act as if the one you left is better. After all, that surely raises the question of why you left in the first place. Is the cartoon’s humor a little cruel? Sure, but the cruelty is clearly directed at people for being unpatriotic, not merely for being immigrants.
Nevertheless, Facebook banned Lauren’s fan page for 3 days for posting it. This much is a garden variety bit of Leftist overreaction, and doesn’t on its face merit being specifically singled out. What does merit being singled out is what happened when Lauren returned from her forced absence and posted the following defiant message accompanied by a winking, grinning picture:
“Fresh off another 3-day ban from Zuckerberg for saying ‘offensive’ things about illegal immigrants, like ‘they should go back.’ Don’t worry, I’m really sorry and I’ll never do it again ;)”
Facebook’s response was to block Lauren again, this time for a week, and to threaten her with a permanent ban if she kept it up.
Now, one can respond to this in multiple ways. First, and most obvious, we should note that it’s not at all clear why Southern’s second message would get her banned. The less worrisome explanation would be that Southern’s snark triggered the thin-skinned Facebook moderators and that, as a result, we should laugh at them for being so weak and pathetically lacking in self-awareness. This would be a comforting explanation, if an infuriating one.
But there is a second, and more troubling explanation, which is that Southern actually was banned for saying that illegal immigrants “should go back.” Because if this is the bar for “hate speech” on Facebook, then we have a real problem.
Deportation of illegal immigrants isn’t some fantasy cooked up by crazy people. It’s been a mainstream policy position, and indeed, a common policy action for decades. President Obama himself engaged in mass deportation of illegal immigrants, though the exact magnitude of those deportations is obviously a subject for debate. The idea that at least some illegal immigrants should “go back” is bipartisan.
Of course, Southern’s post all but explicitly states that every illegal immigrant should go back, and granted, this is a more partisan position. But it’s also a partisan position with a long history in mainstream Republican politics, and was around well before President Trump turned up. Mitt Romney famously called for self-deportation in his 2012 campaign, which functionally amounted to a call that illegal immigrants “should go back” voluntarily. Does 2012 era Mitt Romney get banned on Facebook?
Maybe so, and outside of Southern’s particular circumstances, that should worry us. Because what that suggests is that the technocrats at Facebook have decided to silence entire national policy debates by simply defining one side of those debates out of respectable conversation as hate speech.
Even worse is that Facebook’s ads are a lot less restrictive – and I mean a lot less restrictive. Until recently, you could literally set up Facebook ads to only reach “Jew haters.” Combine this ultra-lax stance on advertising with Facebook’s painfully oversensitive monitoring of speech, and the message that emerges from the treatment of Southern and others like her is less, “You can’t say that,” and more, “You want to say something we don’t already agree with? F—k you, pay us.”
So consider this your notice, Facebook. People notice when you pull this sort of thing. You can’t define anyone who won’t buy your ads out of a policy debate just because you don’t like their position. And if you try, you may well end up regulated like the money hemorrhaging public utility you really are. You don’t like Trump deporting illegals and building a wall to keep them out? How about you stop deporting users for the wrong politics, and building firewalls to keep them out?
Oh, and one quick message to Mark Zuckerberg. We’ve seen your posts about gallivanting around the country trying to get people excited for Big Brother 2020. They’re embarrassing. Your Silicon Valley sensibilities don’t belong in Iowa, Texas, or in the White House, and it’s painfully obvious. You never should have left the monument to hypocrisy that is your giant, walled-in mansion. In fact, I’ll put that more bluntly, Mr. Zuckerberg:
You should go back.