Can’t take (away) a joke
Media | The Babylon Bee runs afoul of Facebook again
by Kyle Ziemnick & Sarah Schweinsberg
Posted 10/27/20, 03:08 pm
It makes sense that a computer program designed to filter out violent language would censor a joke comparing Democrats to a mob of witch-hunters. But a human being should have known better than to take seriously a satirical reimagining of Supreme Court Justice Amy Coney Barrett’s confirmation hearing, said Seth Dillon, CEO of The Babylon Bee.
The Bee, a Christian and conservative satire website, triggered a Facebook review earlier this month with its post linking to an article that jokingly attributed this quote to Democratic Sen. Mazie Hirono of Hawaii: “Logically, if Amy Coney Barrett weighs as much as this duck I found in the reflection pool outside, she is a witch and must be burned.”
Hirono, of course, did not say that. The quote is a reference to the classic comedy film Monty Python and the Holy Grail. Dillon said a line from the story stating, “We must burn her!” triggered Facebook’s automated flagging system. When the Bee requested a manual review, Dillon said, individuals at the social media company upheld the ban on the story and, more importantly, demonetized the Bee’s Facebook account.
Companies use Facebook to build an audience for their content and target the audience with ads. Dillon said 72 percent of the Bee’s overall traffic comes through Facebook. Removing monetization meant significant harm to the business.
“It’s just difficult to believe that Facebook has decided to double down on this enforcement decision,” Dillon wrote in an online commentary.
Media outlets such as Fox News picked up on the story, and Dillon’s tweet about the ban garnered more than 11,000 likes. On Wednesday, Facebook reinstated the story and the Bee’s monetization.
“This was a mistake and we apologize that it happened,” Facebook told Fox News on Wednesday. “Satire can be difficult for our systems to identify.”
Dillon said Facebook still has problems apologies will not fix. He told WORLD conservative voices face harsher penalties and more frequent run-ins with social media censorship.
“Facebook is stretching, really, really reaching and stretching to try to make it seem as if [conservatives] violated the company standards,” he said.
The platform has made other moves against organizations with similar political and religious views. It prevented actor and filmmaker Nick Loeb from advertising his movie Roe v. Wade in 2019, claiming the film would be advocacy for “issues of national importance.”
In 2018, Facebook blocked the pro-life Susan B. Anthony List from buying ads ahead of the midterm elections. The company called the move a mistake, much like in Dillon’s case. But SBA said Facebook had blocked it four other times earlier that month.
“Facebook has created a hostile environment for #ProLife speech as we never know when they’re going to decide to shut down our ads,” SBA tweeted.
The Senate Judiciary Committee (on which Hirono sits) subpoenaed Facebook’s and Twitter’s CEOs last week to testify about their censorship policies before the November election. Twitter recently censored a New York Post story with information potentially damaging to Joe Biden’s presidential campaign. Dillon called the trend “extremely concerning” and pointed out that violent statements from liberal activists have not faced censorship.
The question often boils down to whether social media companies are public forums, which should grant First Amendment protections to users, or publications, which have complete control over what they want to show on their websites. Dillon already has his answer.
“I’d prefer that they remain neutral platforms that allow robust public discourse,” he said. “If they're going to bring down the ban hammer and cancel out everybody who has viewpoints they don’t like … that’s highly problematic.”
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