One step forward.

The announcement that Facebook will start to block or remove posts that include hateful content is significant. As a dad, as a man, as a human being—it’s a welcome change to a disturbing side effect of social media. Images that promote or celebrate hate and violence—notably when directed at women or teens—will not be allowed.

Yes, this is absolutely the right thing to do. Yes, this is an important first step in curbing social acceptance of the twisted humour that underlies rape culture. And yes, Facebook is a benchmark that affects a large part of social media communities. Without a doubt, this announcement is a victory.

But it’s a hollow victory.

I’m not convinced it’s a victory worth celebrating so cheerfully. How we got here—the real catalyst for change—is sad. Almost a step backwards.

It’s disturbing that it was only the threat of financial loss that prompted Facebook to take action. And while any action is a step in the right direction, it’s disappointing that a corporations that have the attention of almost a billion people still answer only to the greed of shareholders. The organizations themselves have no social value system that we can trust to do the right thing—a good thing—not just the financially rewarding thing.

None of the men or women or parents—or anyone with a speck of conscience—who hold any power, choice or influence at Facebook saw any need to look at the social destruction running amok within their product until it latched on to their bank accounts. Not Amanda Todd. Not Rehteah Parsons. Not any of the thousands of kids who face torment and bullying. None of these incidents was enough to say “Stop, we should better enforce the rules already in place.”

But 11 companies pulling their ads triggered action. And, if we’re being honest, it took consumers pushing advertisers—a petition—before advertisers noticed and decided the consequences were important. Money trumps morality.

This move won’t stop the hate masquerading as jokes; it will show up on a different site. This move didn’t create consequence for the perpetrators of the twisted memes or hate-filled taunting; they can continue to spread their venom to anyone willing or apathetic enough to accept it. This didn’t address the issue or change perspective or improve understanding; it just pushed it away.

At best it shows what is possible, and that some people—enough people—are starting to care. The next step is important.

The idea that morality has a price but not a cost must change; we need to be citizens first, not just consumers. The idea that a company can pay merely lip service to it’s own terms and conditions without actually enforcing them must stop; we need to hold leaders accountable to promises and their impact on society. The idea that shareholder value and profitability trumps everything else must stop; we need a social cost to be just as important and measurable as a financial cost.

I don’t know how we take this next step.

I don’t know how we move the needle so that we expose and stop the trend of hate & torment that parallels all the positive aspects of social media. I don’t know how we help the perpetrators understand the real danger and damage, and make sure authorities call it out for what it is—a crime. I don’t know how we instill empathy and understanding for others within those who seem to lack any.

But as a dad, a man and a human being, I continue to try. One step—maybe a leap—at a time.

UPDATE: Mere hours after writing this article, I saw this post about the possibility of the Italian government considering legal action for Facebook’s failure to prevent hate on it’s site. Another step forward, perhaps.

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3 Responses to One step forward.

  1. Rob says:

    Hey Stephen. I understand how you feel. Not only on this issue, but so many others out there sometimes make you feel helpless and on the verge of despair, asking, “What can be done to change the world?” And if we look at those who have indeed changed the world in large, noticeable ways (like Martin Luther King, Jr., Mother Teresa, Pope John Paul II, or Ghandi, for example), we will notice a pattern not necessarily of focusing on what is wrong out there, in the world (at least not at first), but primarily what is wrong in here — in my own heart. And when they do that, they make a change within themselves, and those changes slowly but surely spread outward, like ripples on the water.

    Yes, we need to make our voices heard. Yes, we need to affect the processes of governance and lawmaking and democracy in general; but if all we ever do is look out the window and wag our finger, and never look in the mirror, that’s all the world will see: a wagging finger.

    I’m with you. Let’s make a difference. As for how to do it: start with your own heart, and never stop. Love others, and in loving them you will teach them how to love.

    In the early half of the 20th century the London Times asked readers to write in and tell them what was wrong with the world. They got thousands of varied responses, of course, but none as short and succinct as this one:

    Dear Sirs:
    I am.
    Sincerely yours,
    G.K. Chesterton

    Just my thoughts. Great post!

    • Stephen Abbott says:

      Thank for the comment, Rob. I think this is—at it’s core—one of the most challenging issues of our current world. I wish I had more of an answer. I agree with you that we have to love and understand ourselves first, and that is the most significant step to a solution. However, once we have made that step, how can we guide others? How can we create those positive mechanisms (family, friendships, regulations/laws, etc) that allow people the time and the paths to get past the pain?

      • Rob Maxwell says:

        If I didn’t have a supernatural perspective on this point I wouldn’t be able to do much. The truth is there is so much that we simply can’t understand; things like apparently-needless deaths; suffering; and evil. On the flip side as well, however, such as love, pleasure, and joy. These are all things beyond our comprehension. To me that proves that there is more to life than what we see on the surface.

        And love is at the center of it all. As Mother Teresa once said, “Love until it hurts. Then there will be no more pain; only love.” This is the only solution to the pain and evil of the world. However, because, of course, many of us will continue to choose selfishness over love (I’m the president of this particular club), suffering and evil will always be present.

        So, there is no “solution” per se. We will never see an end to it. As long as humanity continues to possess free will, we will continue to choose, at least in part, darkness over light. And free will is as inseparable from our humanity as our physical bodies.

        But this is why many atheists are such dark and gloomy characters (not all; but if you would take Freud as an example of this archetype), pessimistic to the core: because there is no deeper meaning to the suffering, in their minds. There is no way to understand suffering and death on a grander scale, because, well, there IS no grander scale. If we see death as the greatest evil that can befall a person then bitterness can’t help but settle in our hearts. But if we see death as an escape from an earthly prison (not a common analogy, but if you think about it, it’s more true than many of us realize; most of us spend our whole lives seeking happiness and fulfillment, and time and time again it proves elusive, at least in its entirety, in this life), and one that comes to each and every one of us at one point or another with swift inevitability, then our perspective will start to open up.

        Sorry about getting a little metaphysical here, but when we’re talking about the problem of pain and evil, it’s about as metaphysical as it gets. C.S. Lewis’ “The Problem of Pain” of the same name is a godsend in this department. If you haven’t read it, I definitely recommend it.

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