Facebook pulls down Babylon Bee joke about Sen. Hirono on grounds that it 'incites violence'

Facebook pulls down Babylon Bee joke about Sen. Hirono on grounds that it 'incites violence'

A few days ago, Facebook decided to stop the spread of a story on their site. No, I’m not talking about the NY Post story on Hunter Biden but something else. A story that Facebook was worried could incite violence. What is this nefarious story you ask? It’s this:

The Babylon Bee is a comedy/satire site that routinely pokes fun at elected officials. In this case, by borrowing an old bit from Monty Python:

WASHINGTON, D.C.—After two days of Amy Coney Barrett gracefully and stoically answering questions with perfect recall and no notes, suspicions grew on Capitol Hill that she might be a practitioner of the dark arts.

“Oh, she’s a witch alright, just look at her!” said Senator Hirono. “Just look at the way she’s dressed and how she’s so much prettier and smarter than us! She’s in league with Beelzebub himself, I just know it! We must burn her!”

On Saturday the Babylon Bee’s Editor-in-Chief announced on Twitter that the silly gag about Sen. Hirono and a duck had been removed from Facebook for “violating our Community Standards”:

Facebook also limited the Bee’s ability to monetize its content on the site:

The Bee asked for a review of the ruling against them and today CEO Seth Dillon announced that Facebook had decided to stand by their decision to pull the story on the grounds that it “incites violence.” The Bee was asked to edit the content.

Dillon pointed out that this decision doesn’t make much sense given the sort of thing that is routinely allowed on Facebook. The Bee is not going to comply with requests to edit the content.

The original post is only five short paragraphs. The only violence described is the satirical threat to burn Judge Barrett for being a witch. Is that the violence Facebook thinks is being incited here? Does the social media site really think this call back to an old Monty Python skit could incite violence? Who do they think is going to take this story about Sen. Hirono and a duck seriously?

The other possibility I guess is that Facebook feels this mockery of Sen. Hirono could incite violence against her. But there’s literally nothing in the post that suggests anyone should respond with anything but laughter.

It would be easy to brush this off as a minor dust-up on social media. But given what Facebook and Twitter did with the NY Post story, this is part of a worrisome trend. In the case of the Post story, it was clear that both Facebook and Twitter were casting around for an excuse to block the content. Facebook said it had signals the content might be fake news but never explained what those signals were or where they came from. For all we know the signals came from the Biden camp. Even the Washington Post saw a problem with the vague way the rules were applied.

The Bee has been annoying people on the left for years now. I first wrote about Snopes writing fact-checks about the Bee’s satirical content back in 2018. It turns out CNN did not buy industrial-sized washing machines to spin news before publication. Thanks for the insight, Snopes! But it turned out Snopes fact-checkers weren’t done and fact checked them again. The second time, the Bee hired attorneys who told Snopes to knock it off. But the absurd notion of fact-checking jokes has continued. In September USA Today fact-checked a Bee story that said the 9th Circuit had overturned the death of Ruth Bader Ginsburg. It turns out that didn’t happen. Thanks, USA Today!

Ultimately this Babylon Bee joke/story doesn’t matter. The content isn’t important. That’s why Facebook’s decision to block it, as if it were a threat, is so absurd. What’s worrisome here is Facebook’s attempt to demonetize the Babylon Bee over a joke. You get the impression that reasonable justifications don’t really matter much to Facebook. What matters is shutting down content that upsets people on the left using whatever lame excuse they can come up with.

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