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Facebook’s Witch Hunt: Horror, social media, and bullying.

Witch Hunts A Graphic History of Burning TimesRecent events played out on Facebook that have the potential to change the face of social media marketing for publishers and writers of horror. As they say on reality TV, this could change the game forever.

On Tuesday 28 May (US time), Facebook took an unprecedented action. They contacted AHWA member/HWA President Rocky Wood, HWA Vice-President Lisa Morton and HWA/AHWA member Greg Chapman about the Facebook promotional page for their book Witch Hunts: A Graphic History of the Burning Times.

“Yesterday I received a notice from Facebook about a page promoting our book Witch Hunts: A Graphic History of the Burning Times,” said Lisa Morton. “The notice stated that the page had been flagged for containing content that fell under ‘bullying’, and that it had been temporarily removed.”

The notification email, which was sent to all three page admins, had a link to appeal the decision.

“I was told I could appeal the decision, and [was] taken to a small button that read ‘Appeal’,” Lisa said. “That was the sum total of the appeal process – no accompanying explanation or chance to argue. A few hours later the page had been permanently removed, and we were all told that we’d been blocked from posting on Facebook for twelve hours.”

What is it with Facebook and censorship? There are many pages to be found on the site that are labelled as ‘controversial humour’, yet are filled with misogynistic or bigoted content. Here, a page containing nothing but promotional content for an award-nominated graphic novel has been taken down without any recourse for discussion.

Facebook’s policies state: “We prohibit content deemed to be directly harmful, but allow content that is offensive or controversial. We define harmful content as anything organizing real world violence, theft, or property destruction, or that directly inflicts emotional distress on a specific private individual (e.g. bullying).”

This is Horror asked if any of the page admins were aware of anything on the page that could be construed as ‘bullying’.

“Absolutely nothing,” Lisa said. “In fact, this book has been used by teachers to instruct students in the dangers of discrimination. And that’s the real pity of this situation ­–  not that our page was removed and we were temporarily silenced, but that the very actions intended to curb hate speech are instead also removing works that examine and criticize hate speech and intolerance.”

Illustrator Greg Chapman said; “There is nothing on our Witch Hunts page that constitutes bullying, or any other breach. In fact the graphic novel has received nothing but positive reviews from critics, is a textbook in a history program at a US college, and is up for a Bram Stoker Award.

“To shut down a page without a warning, or better still, the opportunity to reply to the complaint – in other words to find us guilty before innocence has been proved – is, ironically, tantamount to … bullying!” said Greg.

According to Rocky Wood; “One encounters soft-core porn, outrageous personal abuse, bullying, misogyny, misanthropy, racism, hate speech from and against Christians, Muslims and other groups on Facebook without even trying.

“Facebook infests my News Feed with ads for sex sites and ‘dating sites’ that are clearly a cover for porn, and invites me to ‘like’ or get involved with many things that offend me,” said Rocky. “Yet I accept this is part of free speech on social media.”

Is this entire thing a knee-jerk reaction to the recent campaign against Facebook’s stance on images and pages that depict sexual violence? It’s possible that Facebook have gone from one extreme to the other.

The #FBRape campaign, where advertisers were urged to remove advertising that was appearing beside misogynistic pages, recently went viral, forcing Facebook’s hand in changing the way they moderate some complaints.

The timing of this censorship of literary pages suggests there may well be a definite link.

The Burning Time JG FahertyTwo other authors have faced the same issue with promotional pages, and both authors had the word ‘burning’ in the title. Author JG Faherty lost his promotional page for the book The Burning Times on the same day (within two hours of the first page going), and received the same notification.

When asked about the process he went through, JG said; “I have emailed them several times asking what the content or picture was that they considered in violation of their rules, but I have received no response. The page had been up since December 2012 without any previous problems.”

JG’s account was also limited for twelve hours, the same as the authors of the graphic novel.

“Another book – also with the word ‘burn’ in the title – has been removed,” said JG. “That one was a YA paranormal novel. I haven’t heard what that author is planning on doing. For myself, I have submitted a note to the SFWA and I have been talking to executive members in the HWA about what might be done in terms of official action. This is all so new that we must tread carefully lest Facebook kick us off permanently.”

And there lies the rub, dear reader. With Facebook being free for the members and industries that rely on Facebook profiles and promotional pages, we are not the customer. We are the product they sell to others. And not being the customer, we have little to no recourse in situations like this.

*Update – as of Thursday 30 May, the page for Witch Hunts: A Graphic History of the Burning Times is back on the site.

GEOFF BROWN

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