Sunday, August 1, 2010

Mother Jones gets it all wrong
in RNC Facebook hit piece


Mother Jones recently released a ground-breaking report that the RNC knowingly and willingly allowed antisemitism run rampant on it's Facebook wall. As usual, Mother Jones hasn't let facts or reason stand in the way of juicy "reporting."

So, Mother Jones' (infamously proud JournoLister) Nick Baumann contends that one Kevin Anderson desperately tried to convince the evil RNC Facebook staff to remove anti-Semitic content from the RNC Facebook wall, but, apparently, his righteous and noble pleas fell on deaf ears. That sounds totally plausible, right?  I mean, it's not like Republicans support Israel more than Democrats by like a two-to-one margin or anything...


Well... maybe this particular batch of RNC new media staffers just have it out for "the Jews."  That's possible right?

Maybe... except that I'm an RNC Facebook administrator - have been for over a year and a half - and I was never contacted by Kevin Anderson, or anyone else, to take a look at the antisemitic content. 

Apparently, Kevin told Mother Jones that he had contacted RNC staff to remove the content. Really? How did he do that? The admin staff of the RNC page isn't listed anywhere...

But let us take Kevin and Mother Jones for their word and assume that the basic facts of the story are true...

While I am just a volunteer who watches the RNC Facebook discussion boards in my free time through the wee hours of the morning, I can speak with credibility when I say that Mother Jones is way off base here.

First, Facebook administrators - and not specifically RNC admins, but all admins - don't (or at least shouldn't) simply delete the content with which they disagree. Discussion form moderators (in general) are not thought police. Admins enforce the Facebook terms of service/ content code of conduct and, if applicable, their own organization's rules. From just a cursory glance, it appears to me that the anti-Semitic comments (referenced by Mother Jones) that were made were distasteful, rude and downright ignorant nonsense. Clearly the person (or persons) who posted this garbage feel very adamantly about their point of view.  However, none of the examples cited by Mother Jones appear to flatly violate the Facebook TOS or code of conduct.

And, last time I checked, this was America and people are entitled to peacefully voice their ignorance as they please - I reference MSNBC.  What's that old Voltaire quote?  "I do not agree with what you have to say, but I'll defend to the death your right to say it." ... but these are just my own personal feelings on how discussion moderation ought be executed - not the official policies of the RNC.

But make no mistake, if the RNC Facebook admins took up Mother Jones' Stalin-esk approach to discussion moderation and started banning every single person who posted something that offended their sensibilities, Mother Jones would undoubtedly produce a column claiming that the RNC was oppressing free speech. I can see the headline now: "RNC FACEBOOK VIOLATES 1ST AMENDMENT."

It might be the most newsworthy thing they've ever produced...

Look, I've personally banned dozens of malicious "trolls" from the RNC forum only to have them reappear. Usually, they reappear with a ghost account (a secondary account created to avoid previous bans). But I've also heard there is a Facebook bug that has prevented certain fan pages from permanently banning some trolls.

Nonetheless, it's not as if the RNC hasn't regularly removed offensive content from it's Facebook wall and discussion forum. I can personally attest to that.

But it's significant to note that the RNC currently has around 165,000 fans who regularly post comments and discussions. So while it's cute that Mother Jones has its "interns review every comment that comes through the system" on their Facebook wall, perhaps they'd be wise to consider the fact that Mother Jones has just over 1/10 the Facebook fan base and traffic of the RNC page.

Where the most recent post on the Mother Jones page has a whopping seven comments, the most recent post on the RNC page has 236 comments. 

It's reasonable, therefore, to understand how the RNC staff might not be able to catch every single inappropriate post that makes its way onto the Facebook wall.  Perhaps that's why they let me volunteer my services...  In any case, I can see why Mother Jones doesn't understand the difficulties of running a wildly successful fan page.  Maybe they need some "empathy," I'm sure President Obma would be thrilled.

And I should reiterate - a post being baseless and sometimes even offensive is a necessary but insufficient reason to remove that content and ban the poster. And, it's generally helpful that when you do take the action to ban someone - they stay banned.

Social media admins are tasked with keeping discussion civil within the reasonable boundaries of the TOS. Like I said earlier, discussion moderators aren't meant to be thought police. If you want to raise an eyebrow at the RNC's handling over this matter your real frustration shouldn't be: "Why didn't the RNC silence these people I disagree with by banning them?" You should instead ask yourselves: "Why doesn't the RNC bother sending someone to those discussion boards to respond to that idiocy so as to distance itself through public interaction- isn't that what social media like Facebook are supposed to be all about?"

The answer to even that question is undoubtedly linked to a lack of human resources available to dedicate to that kind of effort... or maybe it says something meaningful about where two-way symmetric communication ranks on the RNC's priority list.  In either case, anything's more plausible than the asinine assessment that the RNC would somehow willfully allow malicious content on their wall.  Who would benefit from that course of action?  Seriously, cui bono?

So, way to go Mother Jones! Your record for inaccurate, biased, liberal reporting remains intact.

Totally irrespective of my volunteer, unofficial position with the RNC, I think this is a noteworthy and substantive case study of how things like the JournoList and MSM liberal bias come together to silence conservative voices - particularly when it comes to social media, where the power of information is decentralized.  Just look at how a publication as small and insignificant as Mother Jones has bullied the wildly successful RNC page into disabling its user-generated content.  Cui bono indeed!


What are your thoughts? 



P.S. Dear Mother Jones, thank you for your contributions to the JournoList.  Truly, your journalistic ethics are as rock solid as your investigatory skills.


EDITOR'S NOTE: While I have been a volunteer admin for the RNC for over a year and a half, I am not officially an employee of (or in any way compensated by) the RNC. The thoughts and opinions expressed here are my own, and not necessarily those of the RNC. Kevin Anderson did post on the RNC wall alerting the staff to antisemitic posts a few months ago, and the staff was under the impression that they had taken care of them by banning the person, but apparently the troll and her content didn't get deleted (hence the bug referenced above). The RNC new media department has yet to issue an official policy on what they will or will not ban an account for, but it has been expressed to me that the items Mother Jones cited would certainly qualify for banning under RNC interpretation. Moreover, the RNC contends that their authority to ban or delete is not limited to only violations of Facebook TOS or code of conduct (which of course is true irrespective of whether or not it's the right course of action to take).
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