Leave it to Facebook to make the right decision about an anti-Semitic post ― mainly for the wrong reasons.
A series of internal emails leaked to Business Insider shows executives at Instagram and Facebook (which owns Instagram) struggled this week over how best to respond to an anti-Semitic painting shared Wednesday on the Instagram page of notorious conspiracy theorist Alex Jones. Much of the handwringing seemed more in worry over how their actions would be perceived externally than over moral concerns about the content itself.
Indeed, Jones’ post ― published the same day Facebook banned white nationalism and white separatism from the platform ― was initially found to comply with the company’s community standards and therefore wouldn’t be removed.
Despite signing off on the post, a content moderator did, however, note that Jones may soon be designated “a hate figure” and would be banned from Instagram entirely.
The painting by artist Kalen Ockerman ― better known by his handle “Mear One” ― depicts what appear to be caricatures of six Jewish men seated at a Monopoly board that rests on the backs of four naked, featureless figures. Piles of gold, money and other valuable plunder rest atop the board.
(Ockerman disputes the painting’s classification as anti-Semitic and says the work is “about class, not race.”)
Deciding what content stays up and who can use our platforms is one of the hardest decisions we have to make as a company, and it’s sensible that we take the time to get it right.
Numerous derogatory comments accompanying the Instagram post made reference to Jewish people and Jewish heritage. While those comments were deleted, the post itself stayed ― until several executives from Facebook UK got involved:
“This image is widely acknowledged to be anti-Semitic and is a famous image in the UK due to public controversy around it,” one of the U.K. executives wrote. Dismayed about how it would be perceived externally, they added, “If we go back and say it does not violate we will be in for a lot criticism.”
An Instagram executive, also aware of the PR exposure, added:
″[Facebook] has literally just gone out with a news room post saying that we’re banning white nationalism and reasserting our commitment to not allowing hateful treatment of people based on characteristics such as race, ethnicity or religion. Keeping this up undermines this announcement, and it will be easy for media to say we’re being inconsistent or ineffectual with our policy enforcements.”
The post was removed Thursday.
Asked if the company was more concerned about being a platform for anti-Semitism or about media criticism for hosting anti-Semitic posts, a Facebook spokesperson told HuffPost the exchange represents a core tension behind free expression on social media.
“We want people to be able to express themselves freely on our platforms, but we also want to make sure that hate speech comes down,” the spokesperson said in an emailed statement. “That is why we have public rules about what is and isn’t allowed on Facebook and Instagram.
“As this exchange shows, deciding what content stays up and who can use our platforms is one of the hardest decisions we have to make as a company, and it’s sensible that we take the time to get it right.”