Democracy Dies in Darkness

The Intersect

Facebook told two women their pro-Trump videos were ‘unsafe’

April 10, 2018 at 4:51 PM

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Lynnette "Diamond" Hardaway and Rochelle "Silk" Richardson slammed Facebook on April 8 when they learned it will not allow their followers to prioritize their content in their news feeds. (Allie Caren/The Washington Post)

Two sisters famous for praising President Trump say Facebook has deemed their videos dangerous.

Lynette Hardaway and Rochelle Richardson are better known as “Diamond and Silk” to their hundreds of thousands of fans — one of whom is Trump. The sisters, who are black, campaigned for him in an election in which blacks overwhelmingly voted against the Republican. And the sisters continue to defend him against accusations of racism. (“Build that wall, build it tall, protect us all before this country falls,” they once rapped)

The sisters’ on-camera style — Diamond (Hardaway) typically attacks Trump’s critics in long rants while Silk (Richardson) chants affirmatively beside her — has brought them nearly 1.4 million followers on Facebook.

But in September, the sisters say, the social media giant began to prevent them from notifying followers of new videos and started to limit the spread of their posts. It is unclear whether the pair was affected by Facebook’s various changes to its algorithm, which have affected other publishers, as well.

Diamond and Silk said they spent months trying to get an explanation from Facebook. Last week, they shared excerpts of an email that they said the company sent them on Thursday:

“The Policy team has came to the conclusion that your content and your brand has been determined unsafe to the community,” it read. “This decision is final and it is not appeal-able in any way.”

Diamond and Silk did not respond to a request for more details on the email.

Facebook has acknowledged sending the message, but it also said the missive was “inaccurate” — though it did not elaborate. When The Washington Post asked what “unsafe” meant and what content was problematic, spokeswoman Sarah Pollack replied with a company statement:

“We have communicated directly with Diamond And Silk about this issue. The message they received last week was inaccurate and not reflective of the way we communicate with our community and the people who run Pages on our platform. We have provided them with more information about our policies and the tools that are applicable to their Page and look forward to the opportunity to speak with them.”

Related: [‘Maybe someone dies’: Facebook VP justified bullying, terrorism as costs of network’s ‘growth’]

The sisters don’t sound appeased by this and have turned the indignation they usually reserve for Democrats and liberals against Facebook.

“We don’t belong to no gang, so how are we unsafe to the community?” Diamond said Sunday on “Fox & Friends,” as Silk nodded and mm-hmmed along. “It bothers me. It’s offensive. It’s appalling. … Why are you censoring two women of color? … They’re trying to become a dictator.”

This isn’t the first time that the sisters (as well as conservatives and the far right) have accused a publishing platform of discriminating against them. They claimed last year that most of their YouTube videos had been demonetized in retaliation to their support for Trump.

But since getting the email from Facebook last week, Diamond and Silk have joined many in the United States who are calling on the government to intercede with social media giants — which have been accused, variously, of exposing users’ private data, enabling propaganda campaigns and, in the sisters’ case, penalizing conservative users.

“I call that dictatorship,” Diamond told a Breitbart writer this week. “So, I believe that maybe the government should start looking at these here entities and maybe I don’t think regulate them, but if they see you violating someone’s free speech now you are in trouble.”

As The Post’s Elizabeth Dwoskin and Hamza Shaban reported last year, the growing chorus of right-leaning technologists and leaders emerged as tech companies began to shut down or cut off service to right-wing accounts and sites.

Events in Charlottesville and at Google, where an employee was fired for disparaging the company’s diversity policies, have pushed them toward an unexpected battle cry: Tell the government to force powerful Internet companies to allow anyone to express themselves on their platforms.

Facebook has not explained what, if anything, the sisters have done to violate its terms of service or be considered “unsafe.” While some critics are suspicious of Diamond and Silk’s links to Trump — including a payment from his 2016 campaign for “field consulting” and a sort of photo op at his Commerce Department last year — their videos are not violent or especially incendiary.

At a congressional hearing with Facebook chief executive Mark Zuckerberg Tuesday, Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Tex.) mentioned the Trump-supporting duo as the latest target of the company’s alleged suppression of conservative voices. And Diamond and Silk and their million-plus viewers also show no sign of letting up. Google searches for the pair spiked as Fox News and conservative outlets picked up on their frustration.

“Taking away their right of free speech and our right to pick and choose what we want to hear,” Lynda Ford wrote Tuesday in one of thousands of angry comments on the pair’s Facebook page.

More reading:

‘Maybe someone dies’: Facebook VP justified bullying, terrorism as costs of network’s ‘growth’

Apple’s Tim Cook: I would have avoided Facebook’s privacy mess


Avi Selk is a general assignment reporter for The Washington Post. He previously worked for the Dallas Morning News.

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