Friday, July 1, 2016

Facebook bans conservative meme

Screenshot of Facebook notification (David W. Thornton)
It looks like Facebook is at it again. The social media giant has a history of bias against conservatives and was the subject of criticism in May after whistleblowers revealed that Facebook employees suppressed conservative news on the site. In recent weeks, owners of conservative sites say that Facebook banned a meme that called transgenders “mental disorders.”

The meme in question, shown nearby, shows 32 gender symbols. The list starts with the traditional Mars and Venus symbols for male and female, but then includes new symbols ranging from various transgender symbols to “androgyne” to “demiagender (with third gender).” The two traditional genders were circled in green and labeled “genders.” The other 30 symbols were circled in red and labeled “mental disorders.”

In at least two cases, Facebook has unilaterally removed the meme from conservative Facebook pages while offering no recourse or appeal for the page owners.

Devin Pelkey, owner of the Conservative Soapbox page on Facebook, said, “My account was logged out on my phone, the Pages Manager [app] and Messenger [app]. I was asked to voluntarily suspend my page to remove other content that violated the Facebook terms of service.” Pelkey said that he was not the creator of the meme.

The notification that Facebook sent includes a link to Facebook’s community standards. There was no indication which standard was violated, but presumably it fell under the “encouraging respectful behavior” heading. The preface to the section reads:

People use Facebook to share their experiences and to raise awareness about issues that are important to them. This means that you may encounter opinions that are different from yours, which we believe can lead to important conversations about difficult topics. To help balance the needs, safety, and interests of a diverse community, however, we may remove certain kinds of sensitive content or limit the audience that sees it.

In the same section, under “hate speech,” the standards state:

Facebook removes hate speech, which includes content that directly attacks people based on their:
·         Race,
·         Ethnicity,
·         National origin,
·         Religious affiliation,
·         Sexual orientation,
·         Sex, gender, or gender identity, or
·         Serious disabilities or diseases.

But did the meme constitute hate speech? Was it an attack on people for their gender identity?

According to Psychology Today, gender dysphoria is a real mental disorder:

Gender dysphoria (formerly Gender Identity Disorder) is defined by strong, persistent feelings of identification with the opposite gender and discomfort with one's own assigned sex that results in significant distress or impairment. People with gender dysphoria desire to live as members of the opposite sex and often dress and use mannerisms associated with the other gender. For instance, a person identified as a boy may feel and act like a girl.

The American Psychological Association website says “a psychological state is considered a mental disorder only if it causes significant distress or disability.” It then goes on to say, “According to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5), people who experience intense, persistent gender incongruence can be given the diagnosis of ‘gender dysphoria.’ Some contend that the diagnosis inappropriately pathologizes gender noncongruence and should be eliminated. Others argue that it is essential to retain the diagnosis to ensure access to care.”

In other words, the APA recognizes gender dysphoria but doesn’t consider it a mental disorder unless it is upsetting to the individual. This is in spite of the fact that the APA acknowledges that gender dysphoria is listed as mental disorder in psychological manuals.

Last year, former Johns-Hopkins psychiatrist-in-chief Dr. Paul McHugh wrote in the Wall St. Journal that gender confusion “constitutes a mental disorder in two respects. The first is that the idea of sex misalignment is simply mistaken—it does not correspond with physical reality. The second is that it can lead to grim psychological outcomes.”

Facebook seems to be allowing liberal bias to outweigh scientific reality in the case of speech critical of transgenders. At the very least, there is a robust debate about whether transgender is a mental disorder. Facebook’s own community standards purport to support such an “important conversation.”

Jeff Thomas, an administrator for The Common Sense Conservative page, said that his page had the same experience as Pelkey’s Conservative Soapbox. The post had been up for about a week and was generating a lot of attention and discussion, which Facebook says it encourages. Then, with no warning, the post was suddenly removed.

When Facebook removes a post, the person who posted it is notified. They have to click “continue” on the notification to get back to their account. There is no appeal if the decision is wrong or unfair. In fact, it is very difficult to contact Facebook about anything. Facebook’s help tab contains a link to “contact your grievance officer” that only works in India, but there is also a “give us feedback” link that allows users to send a message to Facebook.

Thomas says that the administrators for the page sent a feedback message to Facebook explaining about gender dysphoria. So far, they have not received a reply other than a form email that says that “we can’t respond to your emails individually, but we are paying attention to them.”

Thomas and Pelkey are both unhappy with the outcome in which an anonymous Facebook user used Facebook’s bureaucracy to quash a lively debate over an interesting and unsettled scientific and cultural topic with real-world implications.

“It’s some bullshit is what it is,” noted Pelkey.

Disclosure: The author is owner of the Common Sense Conservative page.

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