Measured against its peers, Facebook has been particularly soft on Donald Trump and his administration’s penchant for spewing violent rhetoric, misinformation, and outright lies. It seems, after no shortage of pressure, the social media company has found where it draws the line for a sitting president: the extraordinarily low bar of invoking symbols used in Nazi concentration camps.
These ads — an estimated 88 of them, according to Media Matters — asked for Facebook users to “stand with your President and his decision to declare ANTIFA a Terrorist Organisation.” First of all, no such designation exists under the current law, but we already knew the gooey centre of Trump’s mind palace has no grasp of how government functions. More importantly, these ads were all appended with a red, inverted triangle.
While not as immediately familiar in its affiliation to the Nazis, the red triangle was one of a litany of different badges which were sewn onto the uniforms of prisoners in concentration camps. This one historically connoted left-wingers: socialists, unionists, communists, other members of opposition parties, and those who had helped to rescue Jews.
That context being what it is, one would imagine it would be hard to argue the overlap in description was purely accidental. Instead, Trump’s team is claiming that the inverted red triangle is “an emoji” and “a symbol widely used by Antifa.” (Only one of those things is true.)
These ads — which, let’s not lose sight of the present danger, proposed classifying political dissidents as terrorists — began running on Facebook yesterday. But it wasn’t until today, in the middle of Facebook head of security policy Nathaniel Gleicher’s testimony before Congress that the ads were removed. “We don’t allow symbols that represent hateful organisations or ideologies unless they’re put up with context or condemnation,” Gleicher said when questioned by Rep. Eric Swalwell. “You obviously want to be careful to allow someone to put a symbol to condemn it or to discuss it.”
Team Trump has flirted with the use of Nazi symbols for its social media campaigns previously; Gleicher declined to answer a follow-up question as to whether Trump’s campaign would face additional consequences from Facebook for repeated infractions. The purpose of Gleicher’s questioning today by the House Intelligence Committee was the topic of election security and misinformation. No Republican members of the committee were in attendance.
Facebook has a well-earned reputation for inaction where Trump’s use of the internet bully pulpit is concerned. His infamous “when the looting starts, the shooting starts” post — a Civil Rights-era paraphrase, albeit from the wrong side of history, and a bald call to violence on the part of police and private citizens against protesters — was left intact on Facebook even while Twitter hid it. In leaked audio, Mark Zuckerberg bafflingly claimed the phrase had “no history of being read as a dog whistle.” To a point that’s true: Adog whistle, like the use of an obscure piece of Nazi iconography, is only supposed to be understood by those in the know, whereas threatening to shoot your own citizens is something anyone can immediately comprehend as morally bankrupt.
For unrelated reasons, if you would like to delete your Facebook account, here’s the link to do that.