Recently, Minister Louis Farrakhan was banned from Facebook. According to reports, Farrakhan, along with others, had their Facebook accounts terminated due to their dissemination of hate speech. Others banned included Paul Nehlen, Milo Yiannopoulos, Paul Joseph Watson and Laura Loomer, along with Alex Jones’ Infowars. The ban also includes Instagram.
The ban has been seen as the latest response to criticisms about the spewing of hate on Facebook and other social media platforms and the impact that it may have on impressionable individuals. In an online Associated Press article written by Barbara Ortutay entitled “Facebook bans Louis Farrakhan, Alex Jones, other extremists for hate speech,” Keegan Hankes, senior research analyst for the Southern Poverty Law Center, which tracks hate groups in the U.S. states, “We know that there are still white supremacists and other extremist figures who are actively using both platforms to spread their hatred and bigotry.” He, along with other advocates supporting the ban, are happy about the latest development, but feel that more has to be done in order to eradicate the spread of hate on social media.
Facebook has been under pressure for years to do something about the issue of hate speech. The latest moves, however, are leading us down a slippery slope. The idea of free speech is a key component of our democracy, but it does have a built-in catch 22. For example, you can’t yell “fire” in a crowded theater. Moreover, many African Americans, no doubt, batted nary an eyelash when white supremacists were banned, however, the other side of the coin is that if using a ban applies to them, it also applies to Black people. The problems connected with free speech apply to everyone. So like Alex Jones has been banned, someone like Farrakhan can also be banned. It just depends upon who has the power to determine what violates free speech and who makes the rules.
Decent citizens are appropriately appalled by hate speech, especially if it can result in real life tragedies wherein people act out the horrendous things that come out of the mouths of haters. The conundrum looms – who is to determine what counts as hate speech and what doesn’t? Though Minister Farrakhan has held controversial viewpoints at times, it would be difficult to make a case for his speech encouraging people to commit heinous acts. He has never told people to go out to maim or kill others. Admittedly, the Nation of Islam (NOI) does hold some controversial ideas. For example, they claim that white people were created by a Black scientist named Yacub who “grafted” them into being. It is also commonly shared by NOI members that white people are considered to be “devils.” Though these ideas would not endear Jewish people to Blacks or encourage positive race relations, they do not leave people with the conviction to go out and kill others. Basically, the NOI is a major advocate of self-help. Farrakhan and his followers encourage self-respect, self-determination, economic empowerment, and more. In essence, Farrakhan’s rhetoric is focused on the upliftment of the Black community, and not on destroying whites or others.
Arguably, Farrakhan came under fire for at least two things that would tend to alienate Jews. When Rev. Jesse Jackson made a statement about “Hymie Town” referring to Jews, Farrakhan, in so many words, said that the Jews would not be allowed to hurt Rev. Jackson. The other thing that probably gets under their skin is a book written by Farrakhan entitled the “Secret Relationship Between Blacks and Jews,” which casts shade on Jews due to the part they allegedly played in the slave trade. Mark Zuckerberg, the founder and CEO of Facebook, is Jewish. It is understandable, therefore, that he would take umbrage with anything remotely seen as anti-Semitic. But the issue is really power – under the guise of judging hate speech, Zuckerberg has the power to decide what is, or what is not, hate speech, and as a result, take away the freedom of speech from Farrakhan or whomever else he chooses due to his control of a powerful social media platform. We abhor the use of hate speech. But when we embrace anti-democratic notions like banning free speech, we may all eventually become victims of censorship. Where will it end? Today it’s Farrakhan, Alex Jones, et al. Who will it be tomorrow? Muting free speech is not the answer. A Luta Continua.