When Jane Doe, a member of a private Facebook group, LESBIANS OVER 70, was suspended, (known as Facebook Jail), she was asked to check AGREE or DISAGREE if she violated FB community standards. She had messaged another member of the private group (approximately 500 members) using the phrase “dyke on a tractor”. She checked Disagree. Boom. NO discussion. She was prohibited from using FB without a trial, a jury, or a hearing to dispute the suspension. Yes, Jane Doe is not her real name because she finds today’s politically correct sensitive atmosphere truly exhausting, and she wishes to remain peacefully in her private members club.
At first Jane guessed that the word dyke triggered an algorithm. Was it deemed hate speech even though the recipient had earlier referred to herself as a dyke on a tractor because her boss was letting her drive a backhoe that day? Jane simply responded “I like dykes on tractors.” Jane was flabbergasted because, “Within a few seconds of sending my reply, a message came up that blocked me from posting. It was so quick, I didn’t think anyone in the group would have had time to report me.”
Dykes on tractors was most likely a cheeky, fun, and innocuous reference to the group Dykes on Bikes, a chartered lesbian motorcycle club with 22 chapters and a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization.
In 2017 Liz Waterhouse of the blog listen2lesbians said she was blocked several times on FB for using the term dyke in a positive way. According to Jesse Jones of Australia’s Star Observer, “Waterhouse said the term ‘dyke’ has evolved from being a slur to also being used in everyday conversation by lesbians.”
That same year, Julz Raven of Queensland chapter of Dykes on Bikes asked, “Facebook to investigate the practices of its content reviewers to determine if any are showing a bias against women or lesbians.” The Queensland chapter of Dykes on Bikes has had its Facebook page shut down several times with a message saying it breached community standards.
Although FB claimed in 2017 they were addressing this problem, fast forward to FIVE years later, and just last month, women who used the word “dyke” on FB were zapped again with a suspension.
This triggered an overhaul on Facebook regarding how they define hate speech and how they block content. But who gets to be the arbiter of what a word means and the author’s intent?
For years the FB community standards remained hidden. Now the guidelines and standards have been published by Meta – Facebook’s parent company. Meta’s website states,
The content policy team at Facebook is responsible for developing our Community Standards. We have people in 11 offices around the world, including subject matter experts on issues such as hate speech, child safety and terrorism.
Eleven offices for one billion users?
Every week, our team seeks input from experts and organizations outside Facebook so we can better understand different perspectives on safety and expression, as well as the impact of our policies on different communities globally,
The appeals process has been expanded, that’s good, but with 7,500 content reviewers, the appeal is still heard by a human being – a human with political, philosophical, and cultural leanings. For example, supposing an incarnation of Facebook and Twitter existed during the reign of George Bush – platforms that were politically aligned with the government. What if an early investigative article was posted, claiming Saddam Hussein did NOT REALLY have weapons of mass destruction, thereby no justification for invading Iraq. This would have been a narrative that contradicted the government narrative, and you can bet it would have been deemed disinformation by the government. People really believed for a while that Saddam Hussein was threatening the west with WMD and total annihilation, so what if the story claiming he did not have WMD had been wiped off Twitter and Facebook as disinformation? The truth doesn’t always show it’s face early on in the drama, and the human on ANY review committee could have been a staunch supporter of Bush and called the article treason.
Back to tractors, bikes, backhoes, and dykes, Jane Doe yearns for the discussions on Lesbians Over 70 move over to an independent community forum that is not monetized with advertising. She imagines the new platform would not have arbitrary, sudden suspensions and instead, it could be a chat room where the group users monitor themselves. Utopia? Maybe.
header image: Dykes on Bikes Sydney gathered outside the Trans & Gender Diverse Swim Night at Ashfield aquatic centre last night to support trans community who came to swim.