Provide counterpoints

The Guardian runs an open letter to Mark Zuckerberg from the parents of one of the children murdered at Sandy Hook:

Since that day, we, as well as the parents, family, and friends of the 25 other victims, have been embroiled in a constant battle with social media providers, including Facebook, to protect us from harassment and threats.

Almost immediately after the massacre of 20 little children, all under the age of seven, and six elementary school teachers and staff, the attacks on us began. Conspiracy groups and anti-government provocateurs began making claims on Facebook that the massacre was a hoax, that the murdered were so-called “crisis actors” and that their audience should rise up to “find out the truth” about our families. These claims and calls to action spread across Facebook like wildfire and, despite our pleas, were protected by Facebook.

While terms you use, like “fake news” or “fringe conspiracy groups”, sound relatively innocuous, let me provide you with some insight into the effects of allowing your platform to continue to be used as an instrument to disseminate hate. We have endured online, telephone, and in-person harassment, abuse, and death threats. In fact, one of the abusers was sentenced to jail for credible death threats that she admitted in court she had uttered because she believed in online content created by these “fringe groups”. In order to protect ourselves and our surviving children, we have had to relocate numerous times. These groups use social media, including Facebook, to “hunt” us, posting our home address and videos of our house online. We are currently living in hiding. We are far from alone in our experiences, as many other families who have lost loved ones in mass shootings and other tragedies have reported the same continuing torment.

Our families are in danger as a direct result of the hundreds of thousands of people who see and believe the lies and hate speech, which you have decided should be protected. What makes the entire situation all the more horrific is that we have had to wage an almost inconceivable battle with Facebook to provide us with the most basic of protections to remove the most offensive and incendiary content.

Facebook tells us things like that don’t violate its “community standards” – which makes one wonder very seriously about what “community” they have in mind.

In your recent interview with Kara Swisher of Recode, you were asked why Facebook would allow an organization to post a conspiracy theory claiming that the Sandy Hook massacre was staged. While you implied that Facebook would act more quickly to take down harassment directed at Sandy Hook victims than, say, the posts of Holocaust deniers, that is not our experience. In fact, you went on to suggest that this type of content would continue to be protected and that your idea for combatting incendiary content was to provide counterpoints to push “fake news” lower in search results. Of course, this provides no protection to us at all. It would require people writing articles and making posts about our family and the massacre in the same quantity and read and spread by the same numbers as those who post and publish the hoax content. Since few are writing about a school shooting from six years ago, especially when other mass shootings have followed, only the Sandy Hook “hoax” information appears and is spread, giving increased credence to the hateful, dangerous content.

That “answer speech with speech” bromide drives me crazy. Do the people who trot it out so cheerfully not understand that sometimes – indeed, often – the bad speech wins? That people can – all too easily – be talked into anger and then hatred and then violence? That riots are a thing, massacres are a thing, genocide is a thing?

Facebook plays a mammoth role in exposing the world’s masses to information. That level of power comes with the tremendous responsibility of ensuring that your platform is not used to harm others or contribute to the proliferation of hate. Yet it appears that under the guise of free speech, you are prepared to give license to people who make it their purpose to do just that.

It more than appears; it is all too clear.

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