Facebook and transphobia

Can Facebook’s community standards be used to drive transphobic content away? The rules are promising. Anything transphobic may fit under prohibited hate speech, defined as “a direct attack against people on the basis of what we [and British law] call protected characteristics” including gender identity. “We define attacks as violent or dehumanising speech, harmful stereotypes, statements of inferiority, expressions of contempt, disgust or dismissal, cursing and calls for exclusion or segregation.”

The heart of the anti-trans campaign is calls for exclusion of trans women from women’s spaces.

There are long lists of what is dehumanising, including generalisations or comparisons to insects, animals, filth, sexual predators, subhumans or criminals.

“Statements denying existence” are forbidden, which arguably includes suggestions that people transition on a whim, such as, “he wakes up one morning and declares he’s a woman”. Referring to trans or nonbinary people as “it” is specifically forbidden.

Calling us mentally ill is forbidden. Alleging “Moral deficiency” is forbidden, including calling us perverts, so mentioning “autogynephilia” should be forbidden. Statements of our inferiority, such as calling us freaks, abnormal, or worthless. Expressions of contempt, or admission of intolerance, is forbidden. Denying that the protected characteristic should exist. Expressions of contempt, hatred or disgust. Cursing and profane terms are forbidden.

Demands that we be segregated or excluded are forbidden. Facebook does not specify that excluding trans women from women’s spaces counts, but arguably it should. Advocating political, economic or social exclusion is forbidden, including “denying access to spaces (physical and online) and social services”. Slurs, “defined as words that are inherently offensive and used as insulting labels for the above-listed characteristics”, are forbidden.

Heading 16, “Cruel and insensitive”, may also be relevant. It forbids mocking “victims of serious physical and emotional harm”, which could include transphobia, internalised or external.

Facebook refers us on to this essay on hate speech by Richard Allan. It is a balance. They want to encourage self-expression, but have rules against bullying. Attacks on social groups, including trans people, are hate speech. Context matters.

Facebook profits from “language designed to provoke strong feelings, making the discussion more heated” because it drives engagement. They believe in “harmless use cases”. In the context of immigration, Allan writes “we don’t want to stifle important policy conversations”, and that could be a defence for transphobes, arguing that trans woman access to woman’s space is a policy debate. So the hatred has to be something more than that.

Trans people can quote hate speech in order to argue against it, and reclaim slurs: I can call myself a tranny but no-one else can. There is a thin line between expressive opinion and unacceptable hate speech, and AI can’t define it, so users should report it to moderators.

Facebook is an American company with American cultural values, including commitment to free speech: “The goal of our Community Standards has always been to create a place for expression and give people a voice.” However on the same page they say they want content to be “authentic”- “we don’t want people using Facebook to misrepresent who they are or what they’re doing”. So, anti-trans campaigners often pretend to be women’s rights campaigners, or lesbian rights campaigners, when what they seek is trans exclusion. This is not authentic. Hate speech fits under their principle of Dignity: “We expect that people will respect the dignity of others and not harass or degrade others.”

So what happens when the anti-trans campaigners breach the community standards? Trans people and allies have to complain. And while groups and pages breach the community standards, complaints are restricted to particular content on groups. You can, however, report a page.

I want to see how this works. I see a hateful picture: it has the words “human beings cannot change sex and the law should not pretend that they can”. I click the three dots, then “find support or report photo”. I click “Hate speech”, then “Sex or gender identity”, then “Next”.

It asks, “Does the post go against our Community Standards on hate speech?” I click Yes, then Next. Unfortunately, it does not allow me to explain how it does that.

On the page itself, I click the three dots, then, again, “Hate speech”, “Next”, “Report page”, “Done”. Again, I cannot give reasons. It suggests I can block the page, so stop seeing it, but I don’t want to: instead, I want to prevent other people from seeing it: trans people, who might be hurt by it, and potential haters, who might be radicalised by it, or confirmed haters, who might share its rubbish.

Facebook claimed to have “taken action” on 22.1m pieces of hate speech content in three months, which means removing it, covering it with a warning, disabling accounts, or reporting it to agencies. They say that out of every 10,000 content views, 10-11 included hate speech.

After an hour, I got a message to say that the page did not go against any specific community standard, so would not be removed, but suggesting I block it. So far, so useless, and no opportunity to put the case that it is transphobic hate. Possibly the most extreme hate might occasionally be deleted, but not this, which campaigns to take away trans rights and pretends trans people do not exist.

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Unfortunately, the implementation does not live up to this promise. I reported an image, and have not heard back. Then I reported a comment- transphobia whited out on my site, not all text-readers will- “‘Trans women’ can be males with gender dysphoria but a huge majority are males with autogynephilia, which is a male sexual fetish based on being validated as their idea of woman.” This is a lie, and also a “derogatory term related to sexual activity”, so banned. But the response is,

we reviewed the comment that you reported and found that it doesn’t go against any of our Community Standards… we understand that you don’t like it. We recommend that you hide the comment or unfollow, unfriend or block the person who posted it.

This is completely useless. Hate and lies about trans people spread across facebook uncontrolled.

11 thoughts on “Facebook and transphobia

  1. You say “Anything transphobic may fit under prohibited hate speech, defined as “a direct attack against people on the basis of what we [and British law] call protected characteristics” including gender identity.” You do not know your law. Gender identity is not one of the nine protected characteristics. But then, what can one expect of reality-denying MRAs?

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    • Kate, I am afraid Robbie is right that gender identity is not a protected characteristic in British law. It’s “gender reassignment”- you are not protected until you decide to transition. But what I said was, that British law refers to “protected characteristics”, not that the list was precisely the same. And, please be courteous. “Idiot”. “Reality-denying MRAs”. These terms are not conducive to courteous argument. Trans women are women’s rights activists when we are rights activists.

      Liked by 1 person

      • ?Not protected until you decide to socially transition; that being a requirement of moving towards reassignment (living in your chosen gender for ?2 years) which my daughter was trying to do before Covid mucked up her electrolysis, that being a precursor (following her facial surgery, which in turn was to prevent further abusive experiences) to returning to social transition .. it’s a hard enough path to follow, without people denying your right to exist!

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  2. There are many things that are not allowed to be said on Facebook and I have had my posts deleted or had the stupid “fact check” notice put on them. I don’t believe we need even more censorship on Facebook and so I don’t report anything. I adamantly disagree with the community standards too.

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