Australian Christian author and historian John Dickson has been embroiled in a Facebook stoush over the weekend after the social media giant deleted a post by Dickson that suggested same-sex marriage advocates share some of the blame with conservatives for making LGBTI youth feel they are hated, then reinstated it late last night.
“I might be wrong, but I think I detect a pattern of argumentation over same-sex marriage that potentially harms LGBTI youth and, yet, is partly the fault of those advocating for gay marriage,” read the beginning of Dickson’s post on Saturday afternoon. It was posted just before 1.30pm. At 7.41pm, Dickson posted again on Facebook after he noticed his first post had been taken down.
“Dear all, WOW! I have no idea why, because no explanation was offered, but Facebook HQ has just deleted my entire post testing the thesis that by interpreting all opposition to gay marriage as ‘hatred’ gay marriage advocates themselves share some of the blame with conservatives for making LGBTI youth feel they are hated. I was logged out of FB itself, then received the message ‘We removed the post below because it doesn’t follow the Facebook Community Standards.’ Then it was gone!”
According to Facebook’s Community Standards, Facebook wants its users to “feel safe” when using the network. “These policies will help you understand what type of sharing is allowed on Facebook, and what type of content may be reported to us and removed. Because of the diversity of our global community, please bear in mind that something that may be disagreeable or disturbing to you may not violate our Community Standards.”
In March, Facebook entered an unprecedented arrangement with marriage equality advocates in Australia, offering its millions of Australian Facebook users the ability to add a rainbow filter to their Facebook profile in an effort to demonstrate mainstream support for same-sex marriage in Australia. Facebook’s director of policy in Australia, Mia Garlick, told the SMH that the new feature was “a way of us amplifying the conversations that we already see happening on the platform.”
Dickson, a founder of the Centre For Public Christianity, has a hefty Facebook following of nearly 10,000 friends and followers and his page is often a place of heated debate about Christian issues. But he told his Facebook followers that he felt the discussion surrounding the apparently offending post had been a “terrific conversation”.
“Pretty much everyone was measured and thoughtful – both for and against. I will be complaining to Facebook and asking them to justify this decision. If you saw the post and the discussion that followed, and you feel Facebook has acted in an inappropriate manner, please also contact them. If you think they did the right thing, by all means, congratulate them,” Dickson wrote.
One person who did see Dickson’s original post and contacted Facebook was former human rights commissioner Tim Wilson, now the Liberal candidate for the seat of Goldstein in this year’s federal election. Wilson told The Australian, which has run a front-page story today suggesting Facebook “gagged same-sex debate”, that he contacted Facebook after “being made aware of it yesterday.” Dickson told Eternity he had not contacted Wilson.
Wilson is a strong supporter of same-sex marriage but has been vocal about the need to protect individual belief and religious freedom. “We cannot protect the rights of one group of people by denying the rights of another group,” Wilson said in an interview with The Australian‘s Inquirer section last year. He told The Australian last night that his instinct was to “defend free speech.”
Dickson told Eternity that he believes it was only because of Tim Wilson’s intervention that his post was reinstated at 8.30pm on Sunday night, along with all the comments. “I had written to Facebook, and they hadn’t gotten back to me.”
In an email, Facebook told Dickson that “a member of our team accidentally removed something you posted on Facebook. This was a mistake, and we sincerely apologise for this error. We’ve since restored the content, and you should now be able to see it.”
Dickson told supporters that he felt an explanation was “more apt” than an apology, in this situation.
“If the removal was the decision of some overeager FB employee, that’s a problem,” wrote Dickson on Facebook. “If this was an automatic removal after a campaign of complaint, that’s also a problem. I hope to get more information in due course.”
He told Eternity, that there’s “no way” that when Facebook says “it was an accident”, that it was a technical glitch.
“I think what they mean – and I’m speculating – is that someone in Facebook made an individual call that didn’t follow their own procedures. And it only got reviewed, I think because of Tim Wilson. But on review, the powers that be said no way that this should be removed. Which is kind of sad at one level.
“Why should it be me – a guy with 10,000 Facebook followers who gets this privilege [of the post being reinstated]. I didn’t ask Tim Wilson to do it, he did it off his own bat, but he knows who I am. But what happens to the person who isn’t known to the former human rights commissioner?”
Dickson told Eternity that he’s “pushing” for more information from Facebook, and has asked for a phone call or face-to-face meeting to discuss what happened with the company, and also about “their guidelines and what constitutes fair guidelines for a public discussion about gay marriage.”
“Every time Facebook makes a mistake, they’ll get better at not making them,” said Dickson. At the time of writing he had received no other information from Facebook about why his post was removed.