So Johnson, who is the founder and publisher of online news site Flint Beat, wrote on Facebook: “My dad’s truck was vandalized this morning with racial slurs. We are launching a GoFundMe campaign to help cover some of his expenses. All four of his tires were slashed, the chrome was damaged and the truck will require a paint job. My dad, Hubert Roberts, is a community activist who volunteers in Flint. He works with Flint youth and is very selfless. If you are doing grassroots work in #Flint you probably. If there is money left after his expenses are covered the rest will go towards his work as a youth mentor in Flint.”
A heap of abuse came her way. Comments from hateful Facebook users claimed that the vandalism was, in fact, a hoax. Or something else. Example: “What kind of a sick [f-word] spray paints that kind of [s-word] on their own car? I mean most white people can spell white so it probably was a black, Just sayin.” Johnson watched all the nastiness pile up: “My page is public and I suppose posts about racism brings out the trolls,” she noted in a Wednesday Facebook post. “I see the hateful comments but I don’t have patience to block folks or troll comments. It’s not my thing. I debated changing the privacy settings. So, to my friends if you find that to be necessary and you are being harassed let me know and I will make adjustments.”
So who did Facebook suspend? Jiquanda Johnson. Here’s the notice:
“I’m in Facebook jail,” Johnson said earlier Friday.
That was before Facebook reversed itself, restoring Johnson to the platform, along with two posts that it had pulled out of rotation. A review of the posts, a Facebook spokeswoman said, had misunderstood the nature of Johnson’s posts. If someone on Facebook, for example, uses the n-word self-referentially or in a rebuke to racism, then the company refrains from taking punitive action. A June 2017 Facebook primer on hate-speech policy notes that on occasion, Facebook users “speak out against hatred by condemning someone else’s use of offensive language, which requires repeating the original offense. This is something we allow, even though it might seem questionable since it means some people may encounter material disturbing to them.”
The company’s enforcement of its standards isn’t perfect, the spokeswoman volunteered.
Although Facebook does use technology to help flag and queue up posts that contain material that may violate its community standards, human beings reviewed the Johnson posts that the company initially censored. They appeared to miss a great deal of context, as the hatred went viral on social media and attracted media attention. In any case, Johnson received this message from Facebook on Friday:
A Facebook spokeswoman issued this statement on the matter:
We allow people to share about their experiences and messages they receive, even hateful ones. Removing this content was a mistake in misunderstanding that it was shared to discuss and condemn the attack Ms. Johnson had herself experienced. The content does not violate our Community Standards and has been restored. We use a combination of technology, reports from our community and our team of content reviewers to enforce our policies. We remove content that violates our Community Standards when we are made aware of it and encourage our community to report content they think may violate our standards.
Facebook moved quickly in reevaluating Johnson’s postings. Don’t be too quick to credit the company, however, she advises. “It’s because I’m a journalist,” Johnson says, noting that people in her professional network knocked on Facebook’s virtual door about this action. “What if I was just a regular person … a cashier at Walmart?”