Charming Facebook Fat-Bashers Maybe Practicing Hate Speech

Should groups mocking fat people be taken down just as racist and homophobic groups (usually) are? One activist is pushing Facebook to remove such groups, but the company isn't wholly convinced.

Facebook's Statement Of Rights And Responsibilities includes provisions such as, "You will not bully, intimidate, or harass any user," and "You will not post content that: is hateful, threatening, or pornographic; incites violence; or contains nudity or graphic or gratuitous violence." There is no specific mention of "hate speech" or protected groups, but blogger Shannon Russell forwarded us a correspondence between him and a Facebook press rep, which indicates that such a concept is taken into account. He wrote,

Our readers have reported that there are DOZENS of sites aimed specifically at insulting, degrading, dehumanizing and expressing hate toward fat women. Most of these have been reported multiple times over the past year with zero response from Facebook.

In my research, I have collected over 50 links to groups or pages whose sole purpose is to engage in fat hate speech, and I stopped LONG before I ran out of pages.

So, my question is, does Facebook consider insulting pages directed at fat people as hate speech? If so, why do these pages continue to exist in spite of Facebook's policies? If you do not consider insulting pages directed at fat people as hate speech, why not?

The response from Facebook included:

We take our Statement of Rights and Responsibilities very seriously and react quickly to reports of inappropriate content and behavior. Specifically, we're sensitive to content that includes pornography, harassment of specific private individuals, direct statements of hate against protected groups of people, and actionable threats of violence. The goal of these policies is to strike a very delicate balance between giving people the freedom to express their opinions and viewpoints – even those that may be controversial to some – and maintaining a safe and trusted environment.

Russell replied that "hate speech groups against homosexuals and transgendered persons" appear to be removed by Facebook, despite not being mentioned in federal protections included in the Civil Rights Act, so clearly Facebook has been exercising discretion beyond where the federal government draws the line. So why not with fat people?

Of course, Facebook is a private entity hosting the content of others, so as long as it isn't violating any laws it can moderate or delete content however it sees fit. (If this seems obvious, well, it often needs to be reiterated to people, including on this site, who protest that their First Amendment rights are being violated by "censorship." Sorry, Renee Baio, the Attorney General doesn't give a shit.) But while it has every legal right to do so, Facebook's alleged reluctance to remove certain fat-related content appears to rise out of a desire to not fall down a slippery slope of what constitutes offensive speech and give the impression that discourse is being stifled in its broader community.

Meanwhile, one of the groups Russell cites in his own Facebook protest
group ("Saving The Planet From Fat Girls In Leggings") appears to have been taken down. Clearly, if enough members of that community vocally object to content that is hateful towards fat people (and, it shouldn't be missed, nearly always fat women) — maybe more of them than find mocking heavy people in leggings so freaking hilarious — Facebook's leanings can shift.

Update: Sure enough, Russell writes to add that "I had been waging a one-man trolling war on [SAVING THE PLANET FROM FAT GIRLS IN LEGGINS] for about a week before they finally booted me from the group... I recruited some people to follow through, which they did. Four hours after the start of the Fatty Flood (as we were calling it), they were removed from Facebook." He asked Facebook's rep to explain why the group had been deleted but didn't get an answer. "I want these groups gone for good," he writes. "I know we can't end the contemptuous attitudes toward fat people, but we can stop allowing it to be so socially acceptable."

Facebook Allows Hate Speech Against Fat People [Huffington Post]
Statement Of Rights And Responsibilities [Facebook]
Facebook: Please Stop Permitting Fat Hatred [Facebook]