ACLU Demands Facebook Explain Why Content from Black Activists is Being Silenced

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SAN FRANCISCO – Today, the ACLU Foundation of Northern California sent a letter to Facebook demanding information about what caused Facebook to delete the Black Zebra Productions page, a Black-led independent journalism outlet that provides critical resources and information to thousands of people fighting state violence against Black people. The sudden and unwarranted removal of this page was an affront to the organization and those who rely on the crucial reporting they offer.

On June 7, Black Zebra Productions posted a video to their Facebook page documenting police violence against Sacramento protestors at the height of nationwide demonstrations over the murders of Breonna Taylor, George Floyd, and other Black people by the police. Two days later, Black Zebra’s entire Facebook page was deactivated for posting “fraudulent or misleading content”, thereby enacting “content moderation enforcement.”

Black Zebra Productions and the ACLU of Northern California met with Facebook to find out what led to this action and to discuss broader concerns about the disparate treatment of Black users, and Black-owned independent media, on its platform. Facebook refused to say how or why pages are removed and what, if any, steps can be taken to ensure that other Black platforms are protected in the future.

In order to address racial disparities in content moderation enforcement, transparency about what causes those disparities must be revealed. This is only possible if there is a clear understanding of when, how, and why a Facebook page or post is flagged, reviewed, and removed from the platform. Facebook’s unwillingness to disclose what led to the takedown of Black Zebra’s page is at odds with Facebook’s recent pledge to build systems and products that advance racial justice.

As the world faces an unprecedented pandemic that is killing Black people at disproportionate rates, and hundreds of thousands continue to take to the street in a mass movement to combat police violence against Black people they rely on Facebook as an essential tool to connect, communicate, and protest white supremacy, systemic racism, and government oppression. Yet, hundreds of Facebook users continue to report that antiracist posts related to the movement for Black lives are being wrongfully flagged or removed.

“The unjustified takedown of Black Zebra’s page, and Facebook’s unwillingness to be transparent about the mechanics that led to it, are yet another example of the company’s racial bias on its platform and failure to take basic steps to rectify a content moderation system that is clearly broken,” said Abre’ Conner, staff attorney at the ACLU Foundation of Northern California.

Mr. Zuckerberg has claimed that Facebook “stand[s] with the Black community—and all those working towards justice in honor of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery and far too many others whose names will not be forgotten.” A full understanding of how this shut down occurred is necessary in order to prevent other Black activists from having their pages deleted and their voices silenced, thereby ensuring Facebook lives up to Mr. Zuckerberg’s pledge of support.

Now is the time for Facebook to take definitive action against anti-Black racism on their platform. It is no longer tenable to dismiss patterns of Black-content removals as “mistakes” and make illusory promises to improve Facebook’s relationship with the Black community. As Americans face the reality that racism is embedded in the very fabric of this country and that affirmative steps must be taken to remedy those harms, Facebook also must acknowledge that its platform is part of the problem.

Read the full letter here.

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