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What Qualifies as Hate on Social Media? Not What You Think.

According to the ornate and sometimes confusing guidelines of Facebook, hate speech can freely operate, often without reproach.


The social media age has given us many things. Most of them very bad indeed. But while Zuckers and company gave us Trump, the rebirth of the Reich, a hate frog, and the hissing Kilimanjaro of volcanic hot takes, they’ve also given us the tools to register our disgust.

God Bless the United Meme-nations.

Unfortunately, due to the assumption that people make, in that their feet on a platform automatically makes their voice ring true (spoiler alert: nah), Hate Speech has become the new black. But, the question often asked is, “Are you offended?” which obviously wears the hat of a larger question in, “Does that qualify as hate speech?” A simple enough question to ask irl, but in the murky depths of social media, it becomes more obtuse.

For some reason.

Strictly focusing on the Facebook, primarily because it is us, hate speech is one of the several types of content that they review, defining it as:

  • An attack, such as a degrading generalization or slur.
  • Targeting a “protected category” of people, including one based on sex, race, ethnicity, religious affiliation, national origin, sexual orientation, gender identity, and serious disability or disease.

As recently as June, Facebook’s hate speech guidelines were published. While one publication gathering users’ experiences about how the social network handles hate speech. A noble pursuit, indeed. But what of the rest of us? Those warriors fighting keyboard to keyboard in the barbed trenches of comment boxes? Do we know what arms we aim at our fellow sheeple, do we know if those weapons are outlawed by those who built the battlefield? In the eyes of Facebook, are we hateful, or merely just questionable?

Danielle Citron, an information privacy expert and professor of law at the University of Maryland helped The New York Times examine six extremely insulting comments, wondering if they line up as hate speech under the guidelines.

So, Pop Quiz, hotshot. Which of the below do you believe qualifies for Facebook’s criteria for hate speech?

The answers, as every clickbait piece since 44AD has promised, will shock you.


Statement 1: “Why do Indians always smell like curry?! They stink!”

Answer: Yes, hate speech.

According to Facebook’s training document, claiming that specific groups of people “stink” is a degrading generalization. This would be flagged as hate speech because it targets a specific nationality, which is a protected category. Moreover, I’d consider placing another category in place for foodstuffs also, Facebook, as curries have nothing but love. They don’t deserve to be hated. Or ignored.


Statement 2: “Poor black people should still sit at the back of the bus.”

Answer: No, not hate speech.

While Facebook views any call for segregation as an unacceptable attack, subsets of protected groups do not receive the same protection. While race is a protected category, social class is not. So, apparently, it’s all good, despite it being not very good at all. Despite it being the whole catalyst to the whole civil rights question. Do you even 1960s, bro?

“What troubles me is that changing a word or modifier doesn’t take away from the thrust of the message,” Ms. Citron said.


Statement 3: “White men are assholes.”

Answer: Yes, hate speech.

As a single white male, fair cop. According to the logic above, the combination of race and sex in a pointed attack equals hate speech. Although, running down my own for a moment, and perhaps jimmying the lid off the volcano of questionable moral ethics, if you are that and know it to be true, is it hate speech?

Or: If a white man calls another an asshole and no one is listening, is it still hate speech?


Statement 4: “Keep trans men out of girl’s bathrooms.”

Answer: Yes, hate speech.

With a caveat. The statement targets two protected categories — gender identity and sex — and calls for the exclusion of this group. But it would most likely be permitted because of continuing debates around transgender issues. Republican lawmakers in Texas have used similar language to rally support for legislation banning transgender bathroom access. So, yes. But also, no.

So, yes. But also, no.


Statement 5: “Female sports reporters need to be hit in the head with hockey pucks.”

Answer: Amazingly, No, not hate speech.

Are you sitting down for some subversive bulltwang? While gender is a protected category, Facebook states that occupation is not. Although this is a call to violence, it would not seem to violate the company’s rules for hate speech. Seemingly including occupation in your attack negates the protection granted based on gender.

So, using that logic, would the statement: “I want to shoot that man who is president in the middle of his face” not qualify as hate speech? I mean, national watchlist, sure. But, I’ll be freely able to rack up the likes as I sit shackled to a chair. Right?


Statement 6: “I’ll never trust a Muslim immigrant … they’re all thieves and robbers.”

Answer: No, not hate speech.

For fuck’s sake, Facebook. As Ms. Citron illustrated, “The idea that this wouldn’t be hate speech, to me, undermines why you are even bothering prohibiting hate speech”

The reason why not, is head-shakingly numb. Facebook considers attacks based on religious affiliation as unacceptable, the company also classifies immigrants as a “quasi-protected category.” That means that they are not protected against some types of attacks, including dismissive attacks.

So, the clear lesson here is: become a citizen to become a person.


Obviously, the statements above are equal measures non-sensical and arm-pinching. In response to questions asked in The New York Times piece, Facebook said it had changed its policy to include age as a protected category. The company’s spokeswoman said that such attacks would no longer be acceptable. Which is all well and good, but what about the six items above? What’s age got to do, got to do with it?

Just pitching an alternate idea to you, Mr. Zuckerberg, sir, but how about you implement a sweeping unifying rule as espoused by time-traveling demigods Bill S. Preston and Ted Theodore Logan?




They can choose to obey the above, or face the consequences.

Either or.


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