Facebook was founded in February of 2004 by a small group of Harvard students led by Mark Zuckerberg. It started as a socializing tool limited to the ivy-league college itself but soon branched out to include other colleges, and by the fall of 2006 it had opened its internet doors to include everyone over the age of 13. Although it got off to a somewhat slow start thanks to then-social media giant Myspace, it wasn’t long before Facebook dwarfed its competitor, and as of the second quarter of 2015, they boasted more than 1.49 billion monthly active users. There’s no arguing the enormous popularity of the social media site, yet as users inundate their personal pages with everything from dinner play-by-plays to selfies to political fights, something more has become glaringly clear: Facebook is this generation’s playground; a place inundated with both bullies and clear thinkers; a place where battles are waged from the (relative) safety of a keyboard or smart phone. Facebook is our Fight Club, and while the first rule of Fight Club may be we do not talk about Fight Club, the first rule of Facebook is that we do – and it’s done with as much animosity and bias as humanly possible.
This summer, the hot topic on Facebook has been Cecil the Lion and at this time last year it was a high school cheerleader by the name of Kendall Jones, who dared to post photos of herself with trophy animals from a hunt in Africa. There are others, of course: pro-gun groups, conservative groups, gun store pages – if it’s about guns, hunting, or conservative politics, it’s fair game for bans on Facebook. The rules for a ban, whether of an entire page or a single image, are supposed to be set out succinctly in Facebook’s Community Standards: “Our mission is to give people the power to share and make the world more open and connected. Every day, people come to Facebook to share their stories, see the world through the eyes of others and connect with friends and causes. The conversations that happen on Facebook reflect the diversity of a community of more than one billion people.
We want people to feel safe when using Facebook. For that reason, we’ve developed a set of Community Standards, outlined below. These policies will help you understand what type of sharing is allowed on Facebook, and what type of content may be reported to us and removed. Because of the diversity of our global community, please keep in mind that something that may be disagreeable or disturbing to you may not violate our Community Standards.” The rules go on to outline grounds for a ban more specifically based on specific offenses, including nudity, hate speech, and violent and graphic content. According to Facebook, users may post such images to raise awareness or share personal experiences about sensitive topics, sharing images that “involve violence and graphic images of public interest or concern, such as human rights abuses or acts of terrorism.” They go on to say users may share these images simply as a tool to condemn or discuss them, adding that a ban occurs only when “they are shared for sadistic pleasure or to celebrate or glorify violence.” So how has the social media giant gone about these bans thus far?
In 2014, 19-year-old Kendall Jones, a Texas Tech cheerleader and one of those 1.49 billion Facebook users, drew the ire of the anti-hunting group when images of her with the Big Five became public. The Big Five are, of course, what hunters call the top sought-after African trophies: the African elephant, Cape Buffalo, African Lion, Black Rhinoceros, and African Leopard. Jones’ images included a lion, hippo, leopard, and white rhino, and it didn’t take long for the photogenic blonde to be labeled everything from a murderer to a slut and bimbo. She received rape threats, death threats and a Facebook page was even created in her honor, titled “Kill Kendal Jones.” As the anti-hunting crowd raised a ruckus and threats against Jones exploded, Facebook chose to take her hunting photos down on the grounds that they violated the aforementioned Community Standards policy. Meaning, of course, that hunting images depict “sadistic pleasure” or “celebrate or glorify violence.” It took Facebook longer to remove the page calling for Jones’ murder, and the countless users who threatened her managed to skate by largely unscathed. In cases like these, Facebook enjoys lobbing about “free speech” remarks, which is a riotously contradictory statement considering the users and content they continually ban.
Jim Shepherd recently noted in The Outdoor Wire the following incident with the Dallas Safari Club on Facebook. Amidst the fervor surrounding Cecil the Lion, any group or private user depicting hunting leanings of any type has been fair game, and those slinging hatred with wild abandon seem to know no limits. It makes sense, after all, because they seem invincible, backed by the social media giant as they are. In this particular case, the Dallas Safari Club received the following threat from a user going by the name of Peshotan Pavri: “Dumb Nimrods! You idiots have no respect or understanding for nature, which is why I wont bother explaining. I will fight to shut down your disgustingly immoral witchcraft & more importantly the manner in which you carry out what you do & when it is done, I will complete the past, I will come right to your Dallas Safari Club with an AK47 & a grenade and wipe the whole lot of you out!” (spelling and punctuation as originally posted)
When the Dallas Safari Club reported the user’s threats to Facebook, they received this response: “Thank you for taking the time to report something that you feel may violate our Community Standards. Reports like yours are an important part of making Facebook a safe and welcoming environment. We reviewed the comment you reported for harassment and found it doesn’t violate our Community Standards.” Apparently, as long as your threats are directed towards a hunting group, it’s considered fair play.
As Shepherd pointed out, Facebook’s policy on their definition of a credible threat is just loose enough to give them leeway when it comes to when they will and will not wield their magical ban button. On Facebook’s website, their standard for threats is as follows: “We carefully review reports of threatening language to identify serious threats of harm to public and personal safety. We remove credible threats of physical harm to individuals. We also remove specific threats of theft, vandalism, or financial harm. We may consider things like a person’s physical location or public visibility in determining whether a threat is credible. We may assume credibility of any threats to people living in violent or unstable regions.” The catch? They define an “individual” as someone who hasn’t garnered media attention or public interest through their actions or public profession.
In recent weeks, the anti-hunting and anti-firearm drums have been beaten with increasing heat, and not a day goes by without my seeing or hearing from a fellow hunter or firearms aficionado who has had an image reported – and, typically, subsequently banned – for violating Facebook’s Community Standards. Those pictures range from the usual post-hunt images of the smiling hunter with game from whitetail deer to elk to hogs and firearms-related images of all kinds, whether showing the gun on its own or being fired at a local range or favorite outdoor shooting spot by its owner. The complaints are piling up, and they’re resulting in ban after ban. One cannot help but wonder, what does this say about the Facebook powers-that-be and their personal feelings about guns and hunting?
On the firearms side of the aisle, bans have taken place in large and small waves. Back in early November of 2014, Facebook suddenly removed not just dozens but more than one hundred gun groups without warning. Users were shocked, and right as the confusion and frustration began to reach a fever pitch, Facebook randomly reinstated most of the pages. The prior March they’d caved to pressure from Moms Demand Action and Bloomberg’s Everytown for Gun Safety, which used to be known as Mayors Against Illegal Guns, saying they’d remove all posts made by users looking to sell illegal guns or guns with no background check. Facebook’s statement at the time was that they would “remove reported posts that explicitly indicate a specific attempt to evade or help others evade the law. For example, we will remove reported posts where the potential buyer or seller indicates they will not conduct a background check or are willing to sell across state lines without a licensed firearms dealer.” Taken at face value this may seem all well and good – unless one begins to question just how Facebook will decide who and what meets these guidelines.
It seems the Facebook climate is growing increasingly colder towards hunters and gun owners, and it’s more than just an increase in removal of standard deer-hunting images. Because Facebook isn’t just choosing who to distance themselves from, they’re choosing who they draw close. In January of 2015, when Facebook was told they would be barred from Turkey if they did not bow to certain demands, they announced they’d implement a ban on criticism of Islam. Facebook has, indeed, banned groups and pages devoted to concerns about radical Islam, whether those concerns are voiced calmly or passionately. How far this will be taken remains to be seen.
Facebook isn’t going anywhere, of course. With their 1.49 billion active monthly users, 874 million of whom access the site from their smart phones, they have a long and healthy internet life ahead of them. The fact that they seem to have developed a rather blatant bias when it comes to who or what they’re willing to stand up for isn’t going unnoticed, but it also isn’t being actively fought. Just how do you fight back against the policies of a multi-billion dollar company, especially one still enjoyed despite its biases? While it’s true they’d certainly notice if users began deserting the site in droves, what are the odds of that happening? It would have to be a sizeable chunk to make a difference, and just how many users are going to abandon their pages when they spend a significant part of each day cruising the site from their phones and laptops?
The alternative seems to be simply taking it. Complain all you want, moan and gripe and post about the poor way you feel you or your fellow hunters or shooters have been treated, but take it. Rage against the social media machine, but take it. Climb atop your soap box, but take it.
Of course, change can also come from within; would Facebook dare to ban thousands, or tens of thousands, of users posting responsible hunting photos? There are approximately 13.7 million hunters over 16 years of age in the United States, and a huge portion of those are undoubtedly Facebook members. 12.7 million of those hunters are said to hunt using firearms. Would Facebook dare ban those millions?
As Chinese philosopher Lao Tzu said, “If you do not change direction, you may end up where you are heading.” What will you do to create change? Will you be the single stone, creating ripples in the social media lake, or will you simply stay safely on the shore, and take it? The choice is yours. Ripple away.
Disclaimer: The content in this article is the opinion of the writer and does not necessarily reflect the policies or opinions of US Patriot Tactical.
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