One Yid’s Guide to Getting Slurs Removed on Facebook

Let’s place a bet. I’ll wager you 10 bagels that a comment calling someone a “hebe” on Facebook won’t be taken down after being reported to the site.

How do I know this? Well, it’s more than just speculation. I’ve reported various posts using this particular anti-Semitic slur in a pejorative fashion (really, is there any other way?) … and each time, I’ve received messages in return from Facebook claiming that such content does not violate the site’s Community Standards.

You’re incredulous, aren’t you? The word “hebe” is horribly offensive, you say. Hey, you’re right. I can’t help but agree.

But it looks like we’re on the losing side.

Facebook’s Community Standards are very interesting. In part, they aim to ensure that everyone who uses the site has a “safe” experience free from harassment, abuse and threats. These standards also stipulate that Facebook does not tolerate hate speech and “removes” such vitriol, including, according to these guidelines, “content that directly attacks people based on their:

  • Race,
  • Ethnicity,
  • National origin,
  • Religious affiliation,
  • Sexual orientation,
  • Sex, gender, or gender identity, or
  • Serious disabilities or diseases.”

So the comments that I reported, which directly called other individuals the offending h-word, constitute hate speech, right? Because they attack people, namely Jews, based on their ethnicity and religious affiliation?

Wrong. Apparently, “hebe” isn’t the ethnic slur we think it is, despite its age-old presence on the tongues of anti-Semites everywhere. Joining this vile moniker in seeming acceptance on the site is the term “yid,” another offensive label oft-used throughout history to insult people of Jewish heritage … and, per Facebook’s responses to me after I’ve flagged comments utilizing the latter word in derogatory ways, not something that violates its Community Standards.

Um, Facebook … since when did these slurs fall into the lexicon of appropriate application?

OK, so the guidelines do note that “[people] can use Facebook to challenge ideas, institutions, and practices” and “[sometimes] people share content containing someone else’s hate speech for the purpose of raising awareness or educating others about that hate speech.” Plus, the Community Standards go on to say, “We allow humor, satire, or social commentary related to these topics,” which does seem to allow for quite a bit. Unfortunately, the comments I reported fit into none of these categories; they were pure, unadulterated insults … and so they should’ve been removed. Why weren’t they? Why were they allowed to remain?

I think Facebook’s guidelines are a little vague. They need to be saturated with specific examples, including slurs that are complete no-no’s. They also need to have a broader scope; for example, comments that I’ve reported for using the word “kike” have generally been taken down by the site. Yes, that term is an awful, offensive one, but is “hebe” or “yid” much better? Who decides what label is worse than what? Aren’t all of these monikers examples of hate speech? Aren’t they all, well …pretty bad?

For sure, context matters, and to its credit, Facebook has examined such factors when reviewing other content I’ve reported to it. Virulently anti-Semitic comments along the lines of “I hope Hitler comes back to create another Holocaust of Jews” will, happily, be taken down by the site if flagged (though it’s unfortunate that this kind of sentence is all too frequent online among the hater contingent). Yet something like “You’re a hebe” or “You yid” generally won’t be thrown out. And it’s not just anti-Semitic slurs that meet this treatment; I’ve reported content that has used the words “homo” and “queer” in a disturbing, homophobic fashion, and neither has resulted in the comments being removed. I’ve also flagged incredibly racist posts that compare African Americans to primates (yes, bigots still use this absurd, ugly phrasing … would you believe it?), with similarly unsuccessful results. So this issue is across the board. The holes are, sadly, everywhere.

When will Facebook fill them?

I understand that suddenly adopting a policy of removing all such hateful content that I’ve cited can lead to a whole lot of posts being dumped into the virtual wastebasket, and that might be an extraordinarily time-consuming process. I also recognize that this would set a precedent, and it might cause some consternation among the hateful set, who may see the change as inconsistent. But I believe Facebook would be doing the right thing in reviewing its Community Standards and changing them to include the aforementioned slurs. Hate speech is never subtle; it’s always apparent, especially to its target. Is it possible that some hate speech isn’t as well-defined and as blatant as other hate speech? Perhaps .. yet it’s still hate speech. As they say in the baseball world: It’ll look like a line drive in the box score. We shouldn’t differentiate one slur from another. They’re all the same. They’re all offensive.

And Facebook ought to realize that … and adjust accordingly.

I’m willing to wait for this; I’m not as old as I feel. I do think, however, such changes should be considered by the site soon. Because the people who call others “hebe,” “yid” or some other such slur won’t learn these labels are harmful if they’re not stopped from using them. Trust me. This Jew knows. For it’s not just the context that matters. It’s what’s behind these words, too.

Yep, I’ve no doubt: It’s certainly, unequivocally, what’s behind these words, too.


About the Author
Simon Hardy Butler is a writer and editor living in New York City. He has written for publications ranging from Zagat to Adweek and has interviewed innumerable people—including two Auschwitz survivors whose story may be heard at the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum’s website. His views and opinions are his own.
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