Culture

Facebook Bans Users Over Years-Old Posts With Words Like 'Cracker' and 'Tranny'

An odd trend has emerged on Facebook that has left some users confused and frustrated. Several users have reported that they have had posts—some posted as long as 6 years ago—removed from the platform for violating Facebook’s Community Standards. The posts all have the word “cracker” in them, and in some cases, the users have been temporarily banned from Facebook. Some users report that they were blocked from using the popular social media site for up to a week, which has impacted their ability to plan holiday events and run their online businesses.

These bans first came to light in November, and have continued for the past two months. Facebook is famous for governing an individual’s newsfeed with algorithms that automatically choose which posts are likely to interest a given user enough to interact with them by liking, commenting, or sharing. It appears that the algorithms have recently been tweaked to scrub the entire social media platform of content that it deems offensive, and it appears that there’s no statute of limitations.

Let’s harken back to the time when the term “creepy-ass cracker” became part of our popular lexicon. It was during the George Zimmerman trial in 2013, when star witness Rachel Jeantel told us that Trayvon Martin said he was being followed by a “creepy-ass cracker.” The word cracker proceeded to dominate all social media platforms for months. Memes were launched. Profile pics were changed. Those were heady times.

Fast-forward several years to modern day America. The trend passed as other things went viral, and many folks forgot about their old posts using the word or image of a cracker.

That is, until Facebook started banning people. Around the first part of November 2016, a Facebook friend posted a screen shot of a post that Facebook had removed. It was from 2013:

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When she posted this screenshot on her personal account, Facebook banned her for 24 hours:

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Another friend jumped into the discussion and mentioned having had an old post removed when he was discussing actual crackers. Someone else was banned for talking about changing out a transmission, presumably for using the word “tranny”:

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Another friend was banned several times, the last time for a week. This friend was unable to administer her family events that she’d created on Facebook for Christmas, and was unable to administer her online business that she runs, selling items via a business Facebook page:

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Being the intrepid and connected sort, I decided to reach out to a friend of mine who works for Facebook. Eventually, I was given a statement from a spokesperson:

We’re very sorry about these mistakes. The posts were removed in error and restored as soon as we were able to investigate. Our team processes millions of reports each week, and we sometimes get things wrong.

On background:

  • The posts were mistakenly removed by a member of our review team after we received reports that the content violated our Community Standards.
  • As soon as we were notified of the problem, we began to investigate and restored the posts as soon as we were able to identify the mistakes.
  • They have been restored since they didn’t violate our standards.

Within a very short time, I heard from both of my friends who had been banned, saying that their ban had been lifted:

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This was not the end of the story, however. Almost immediately upon being reinstated, they were banned again.

One friend expressed concern to Facebook that she might be unfairly targeted. No response yet at the time of this writing, more than 24 hours after she sent her appeal:

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I attempted to ask further questions of Facebook:

Thanks for the rapid response! My only follow up question, I guess, is that I understand if posts get mistakenly reported. But doesn’t it defy credulity to think that someone is going back through posts as old as 6 years old and reporting them for violating community standards?

Later:

Both of the folks I cited earlier tell me that they’ve been auto banned again from FB. What’s going on?

I made one final appeal advising that I was proceeding with my article and had not yet received responses to my followup questions. No answer.

So what’s going on at Facebook? Is it a tweak to the algorithm gone wrong? Is one rogue staffer targeting conservatives for using certain words? Is this a blanket sweep of certain keywords? This issue has led to more questions than answers.