Last week, Facebook announced that it would clarify the “satire exception” to its “Hate Speech Community Standard.” While this is welcome news for the expansion of content on Facebook, the platform also suggested it would act as a kind of satire police, ruling out certain kinds of satire that “punch down” or communicates “hateful ideas.” Almost as if on cue, Slate published an article on Tuesday attacking The Babylon Bee for — you guessed it — “punching down.”
In responding to a satirical meme that Facebook removed for “Hate Speech,” the platform’s oversight board made a few recommendations for expanding and then policing satire on the platform.
“Facebook should include the satire exception, which is currently not communicated to users, in the public language of the Hate Speech Community Standard,” the board recommended. Facebook agreed to do this.
“Facebook should make sure that it has adequate procedures in place to address satirical content and relevant context properly including by providing content moderators with additional resources,” the board also suggested.
In response, Facebook pledged to implement “a new satire framework, which our teams will use for evaluating potential satire exceptions. Regional teams will be able to provide satire assessments.”
Facebook previously began to develop a framework for humor and satire, including “over 20 engagements with academic experts, journalists, comedians, representatives of satirical publications, and advocates for freedom of expression.”
The discussion of “punching down” came in this context:
Stakeholders noted that humor and satire are highly subjective across people and cultures, underscoring the importance of human review by individuals with cultural context. Stakeholders also told us that “intent is key,” though it can be tough to assess. Further, true satire does not “punch down”: the target of humorous or satirical content is often an indicator of intent. And if content is simply derogatory, not layered, complex, or subversive, it is not satire. Indeed, humor can be an effective mode of communicating hateful ideas. (emphasis added)
Facebook made this announcement last Thursday. This Tuesday, Slate published an article seemingly encouraging Facebook to go after The Babylon Bee. Slate’s Parker J. Bach rightly explained that the Bee’s satire is not “misinformation,” the reporter claimed that conservatives are more vulnerable to misinformation and conspiracy theories because they see the legacy media as untrustworthy.
Bach also suggested that the Bee uses the wrong kind of satire:
The site has a nasty tendency to punch down with humor parts of its audience finds “refreshingly politically incorrect.” The site is often “ironically” misogynistic, as when it “defended” the place of women soldiers in the American military by reporting how “they don’t throw grenades well, so the enemy will never know what to expect” and how “you can pay them way less, which gives you more money for weapons and ammo.” The site is also frequently antagonistic toward the LGBTQIA+ community, with quizzes like “What Gender Are You” (Spoiler alert: the only possible answers are “man” and “woman,” with the outcome solely determined by the question “What chromosomes do you have?”) and countless “identifies as” jokes—for example, “Man Identifies as Woman Just Long Enough to Voice Valid Opinion on Abortion.”
Bach concludes the article with these lines: “Critics accusing the Babylon Bee of misinformation aren’t just missing the joke; they’re missing the problem. The Babylon Bee isn’t trying to fool its audience about the content of its made-up news stories—but it is letting them believe they’re correct.”
So, good satire must only mock the “privileged,” and it must sow doubt among conservatives?
Seth Dillon, the Bee’s CEO, raised the alarm on Twitter.
“The image on the left is Facebook saying (just a few days ago) that true satire doesn’t ‘punch down.’ The image on the right is @Slate
(yesterday) saying The Babylon Bee has a ‘nasty tendency to punch down.’ If you can’t see where this is going next, you’re blind,” Dillon tweeted.
The image on the left is Facebook saying (just a few days ago) that true satire doesn't "punch down." The image on the right is @Slate (yesterday) saying The Babylon Bee has a "nasty tendency to punch down."
If you can't see where this is going next, you're blind. pic.twitter.com/VAVHv9iH8k
— Seth Dillon (@SethDillon) June 23, 2021
“The Left has tried and failed to mischaracterize us as misinformation, so now they’re repositioning to attack us from another angle,” Dillon told PJ Media. “If ‘punching down’ is not allowed on Facebook, then what better way to suppress our content than to say we have a ‘nasty tendency’ to do just that? Here we have a perfect example of how the media and Big Tech are working together to protect their sacred cows.”
Dillon effectively countered the claim that The Babylon Bee is “punching down” by attacking transgender orthodoxy.
“They say we antagonize the trans community (punching down). Utter nonsense. We’re attacking the top-down tyranny of the Left’s progressive agenda and the destruction it’s wreaking throughout society, enabled and fueled by all the most powerful people and institutions,” the CEO noted. “If that’s not punching up, I don’t know what is.”
“But more importantly, the Left’s prohibition of ‘punching down’ is speech suppression in disguise. It’s people in positions of power protecting their interests by telling you what you can and cannot joke about,” Dillon added.
The very notion that conservative satire involves “punching down” while liberal satire ostensibly involves “punching up” arguably smuggles in the assumptions of intersectionality and Marxist critical race theory. The “punching down” criticism suggests that transgender people are inherently disadvantaged in American society, that they are less powerful than their critics.
Yet Democrats and leftists in institution after institution have rushed to foist transgender ideology on Americans, from Barack Obama and Joe Biden to district court judges to Merriam-Webster dictionary.
While people who identify as transgender do face unfair hostility in some instances, so do evangelical Christians. It would be just as wrong for Facebook to censor satire mocking conservative Christians as it would be for the platform to censor satire mocking transgenderism. By the way, the Babylon Bee is an equal-opportunity offender, mocking both the LGBT movement and conservative Christians.
Facebook would not be the first to appoint itself the satire police. Snopes has repeatedly targeted The Babylon Bee, declaring in one instance, “We’re not sure if fanning the flames of controversy and muddying the details of a news story classify an article as ‘satire.’” It appears Snopes has been trying to deplatform the conservative satire site, in part by claiming that the Bee’s satire is somehow not satirical enough.
Facebook has previously attacked the Bee, of course. Last October, Facebook demonetized the satire site, claiming that a satirical article that quoted Monty Python and the Holy Grail constituted an incitement to violence.
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While the “misinformation” attack appears to be subsiding, Facebook seems quite happy to play the satire police.