Former Vanity Fair writer Kevin Sessums knows his way around a word, which is why I knew it was going to be a good email from him on his temporary banning from Facebook when it arrived with the subject line: “Re: Facebook fucked with the wrong faggot.”
While I am not sure who the right one is, in a further exchange today, Sessums said that he has not gotten an “I’m sorry” directly from the social networking giant.
“They apologized, I guess, through the media since I went at them through the media,” he wrote. “But no personal apology or acknowledgement.”
The latest incident is one in a long line of content troubles for Facebook, which has been struggling to deal with the fact that it has become — whether it will acknowledge it or not — a de facto media organization. That responsibility requires that it police its platform more than it seems comfortable in doing.
There have been thorny issues all along over the years, culminating in this election cycle, in which Facebook was accused of impacting the result by not cracking down on “fake news” that has proliferated on the service.
In other words, the tidy and safe suburbs of Facebook have become a little more of a digital cesspool as more people use it as their primary means of media consumption.
The cause of all the Sessums hubbub was exactly the kind of complex issue that Facebook execs are ill-prepared to deal with. As many do, Sessums linked to a Twitter post by ABC’s Matthew Dowd, who was recounting his not-so-pretty experience with Trump supporters. “In the last few hours I have been called by lovely ‘christian’ Trump fans: a jew, faggot, retard. To set record straight: divorced Catholic.”
In the last few hours i have been called by lovely "christian" Trump fans: a jew, faggot, retard. To set record straight: divorced Catholic— Matthew Dowd (@matthewjdowd) December 29, 2016
Sessums was incensed and wrote a post on Facebook that called those who attacked Dowd “a nasty fascistic lot.” Let me just note, Sessums has used the fascist term a ton over the entire election.
So why was this particular reference flagged? Not a clue!
“I have been calling some Trump people fascists for a while to get it into the cultural lingua franca,” said Sessums in an interview. “I have no idea why it caused the ban this time.”
Likely because a lot of people complained in a concerted fashion. Sessums said he was binge watching “The Americans” — irony alert! — and checked Facebook briefly to find a warning that he had violated community standards.
“It felt so arbitrary and I did not know if it was some weird computer thing or enough people complained or what,” said Sessums.
When contacted by several media sources, Facebook quickly pulled the ban after a review.
“We’re very sorry about this mistake,” a spokesman said. “The post was 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.”
Sessums said he found the experience “chilling,” and was initially worried that he might have to censor himself. “I thought, do I have to be more diplomatic, quieter, more careful?” Sessums said. “And then I thought, fuck this — if you think I am loud now, you just wait.”
Sessums said he immediately used his media experience to make a fuss. “What I worry about is people who don't have my footprint in the media and cannot push those buttons,” he said.
He also went to Instagram — owned by Facebook — to protest.
In that post, Sessums referred to a controversial $250,000 advance that Breitbart News’ Milo Yiannopoulos just got from Simon & Schuster. Along with his work, he also got a lot of attention earlier this year after Twitter banned him. The company said that Yiannopoulos was responsible for inciting his followers to harass actress Leslie Jones.
Yiannopoulos’s upcoming book will be called “Dangerous,” which its Threshold Editions imprint told New York magazine “will be a book on free speech by the outspoken and controversial gay British writer and editor at Breitbart News who describes himself as ‘the most fabulous supervillain on the internet.’”
(I thought that was me, but apparently not.)
Interestingly, Sessums did not agree with Twitter’s removal of the incendiary writer. “I am a First Amendment absolutist and think anyone should be able to say anything they want,” said Sessums. “I don't think he should have been banned; he should have been shamed.”
Here is Sessums’s whole post, which seems like a lot of others he has done and is not particularly problematic compared to a lot of stuff now on Facebook:
Matthew Dowd who holds Trump and his followers to the standards of any other politician and hers. But as those who do hold Trump to the standards of any other person have found out on Twitter and other social media outlets these Trump followers are a nasty fascistic lot. Dowd is lucky he didn’t get death threats like Kurt Eichenwald. Or maybe he did and refuses to acknowledge them. If you voted for Trump and continue to support him and you think you are better than these bigoted virulent trolls, you’re not. Your silence enables them just as it did in the racist campaign that Trump and Bannon ran. In fact, hiding behind a civilized veneer in your support of fascism I consider more dangerous. We’re past describing you as collaborators at this point. That lets you off the hook. You’re Russo-American oligarchical theocratic fascists.
And here is Sessums’s Instagram post:
I have been banned for 24 hours posting on Facebook because I shared a Matthew Dowd post about being trolled by Trump voters and his being called a "retard and faggot and Jew" even though he pointed out he is a divorced Catholic. I then called them Russo-American oligarchical theocratic fascists and was was flagged by someone - no doubt a fascist or fascist collaborator - and FB told me that what I posted did not meet its community standards and this would serve as a warning but they if I continued to post such things I would be permanently blocked. To be censored and blocked rightfully naming the rise of fascism is a form of fascism itself and corporate collaboration. On the same day that the celebrity fascist Milo Yiannopoulos gets a $250,000 advance from Simon $ Schuster to write a book they are spinning as one about free speech I am censored for my political speech and banned from posting on Facebook. We are living in dangerous Orwellian times. Maybe take a screenshot of this and post it on your own Facebook pages. Thank you. RESIST.
This article originally appeared on Recode.net.