SAN FRANCISCO — A black activist and writer says she was censored by Facebook for calling out racism, and she is demanding the giant social network do a better job of distinguishing between the people spreading hate speech and the people condemning it.
Ijeoma Oluo was on a road trip with her children when she decided to stop at a Cracker Barrel. While at the restaurant, which has paid millions to settle lawsuits over racial discrimination against black employees and diners, she joked on Twitter: "At Cracker Barrel 4 the 1st time. Looking at the sea of white folk in cowboy hats & wondering 'will they let my black ass walk out of here?'"
Oluo says she was besieged by racist attacks on Twitter and Facebook. Twitter, she says, removed the tweets and shut down accounts. Facebook, on the other hand, suspended her account after she posted screenshots of some of the racist comments and threats.
"This — this, after 3 days of nonstop hate and abuse — is when I finally broke down crying. See, it’s not just the hate. I write and speak about race in America because I already see this hate every day. It’s the complicity of one of the few platforms that people of color have to speak out about this hate that gets me," Oluo wrote.
In a statement to USA TODAY, Facebook apologized and pledged to improve its "process on these important issues." Some of the accounts that attacked Oluo have been removed, the Silicon Valley company said.
“We know how painful it is when someone feels unwelcome or attacked on our platform, and how much worse it must be when they are prevented from sharing that experience with others," Facebook said.
I just received an apology fr facebook acknowledging how horribly theyve handled the abuse that I & many others on their platform have faced— Ijeoma Oluo (@IjeomaOluo) August 3, 2017
"Every black person I know who has been suspended for confronting racism on Facebook has gotten the same 'this was a mistake' response. It is not a mistake if it keeps happening," Oluo said. "The only reason my ban was reversed was because of the outrage it generated, but so many other marginalized people in similar situations are simply forced out."
Civil rights groups have complained that people of color are targeted on Facebook when they speak out against racism, with content moderators removing their posts and placing them in "Facebook jail." Earlier this year, these groups urged Facebook to fix what they said is a "racially biased" content moderation system by instituting an appeals process, among other measures.
Last year Facebook briefly suspended black activist Shaun King, who had posted hate mail he received that included slurs. Facebook restored the post and apologized.
"SO many of you have told me that you have had your accounts suspended for FIGHTING BIGOTRY while the bigots often seem to be able to say whatever the hell they want," King wrote on Facebook at the time. "I actually love Facebook a lot and believe in its power to bring about social change, but it still has a lot of room to grow. Maybe this can be one of those moments."
Facebook says it has been cracking down on hate speech, deleting tens of thousands of posts a week.
On Thursday afternoon, Oluo said she received an apology from Facebook for "how horribly they've handled the abuse that I & many others on their platform have faced."
"They say they are committed to making changes. I hope that's true," she wrote on Twitter.