Letter From Facebook Jail: How minority activists are targets for Censorship

“…Clear all the madness, I’m not a racist, Preach to teach to all,
‘Cause some they never had this'”

Chuck D of Public Enemy, “Don’t Believe the Hype,” circa 1988

Yesterday morning, when I clicked on my Facebook app to catch the latest, I was greeted by the all too familiar signal that those of us who have found our accounts locked out before, or sent to “Facebook Jail” know all to well, that of the app automatically logging off without prompt.

Having had my account frozen on six prior occasions over the past seven years, each due to a post about the Civil Rights Movement or warfare and the struggle for peace in the Middle East, I resigned myself within the first few seconds to my fate–all the while anxiously wondering the alleged offense–and the ultimate sentence.

Your eyes in the preceding paragraph did not deceive you–unlike the court system where I ply my trade each day, one does not get to defend himself to the Facebook authorities. Rather, they simply tell you what the offending post was and the length of sentence. To make matters worse, they never even tell you WHO was the offended person, therefore, activists with public pages like mine, those of us with tens of thousands of friends, followers and lurkers, have no clue who dropped dime and complained.

On this, my seventh suspension, I learned that the offending picture was one that I posted along with an essay about racism within the British Royal family, both past and present. The picture featured a then 20 something year old Prince Harry wearing a Nazi uniform at a Halloween party. Yes, the same picture that many media outlets, including the AP, ran when it occurred during the mid-Aughts was deemed to violate Facebook’s “Community Standards.”

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My sentence: 30 days in the Facebook Jail!!!

Yep, for a medium that allows people to post all manners of ribald, profane, violent and inane content, for the seventh time, I was frozen from my account for 30 days simply for telling the truth about racism across the globe.

By mid-day yesterday, many of my closest friends and followers knew that something was amiss since they had seen zero posts by me. Throughout the day yesterday, I fielded numerous complaints from some friends and followers on my back-up page, “Chuck Hobbs Too.” Yes, like most political and social activists, I learned long ago to have a couple/few back-up pages for times like these, when the Facebook police try to silence our thoughts. To show my defiant resolve, like my Frat Brother Colin Kaepernick, I changed the Profile Pic on Chuck Hobbs Too to the following picture, to show that Toby ain’t in my vernacular.

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Unlike times past, this time I was ready to strike back. I reached out to my friend, Jonathan Rauch, a Brookings Institute fellow, author and columnist who is regularly featured in the Atlantic, New York Times and other prominent newspapers. Rauch, outraged, fired off the following Tweet and sent emails to several friends who, like he does, fight for First Amendment rights.

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Later in the day, I received an email from Attorney Nadine Strosser, the immediate past president of the American Civil Liberties Union. Also offering encouragement, Strosser added the following words:

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Last but not least, I was then contacted by Dr. Ann Kimbrough, the former Dean of the School of Journalism and Graphic Arts at Florida A&M University who is currently a professor at the Medill School of Journalism at Northwestern University. Kimbrough, a long-time friend of my family, is my Clark Atlanta University Sister and easily the most fiercely loyal Chuck Hobbs supporter within the journalism profession.

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(With Dean Kimbrough at FAMU’s 2016 Homecoming Presidential Reception)

As my attitude shifted from happy to angry about this latest suspension, Kimbrough shot me the following text message mid-afternoon: “They are going to reverse the decision about your account today. The timing is right. My folk at Medill (Northwestern) are on it. See email I am sending.”

Doing what I do for a day job, one in which I look at murder scenes and autopsy photos on the regular, I have become somewhat of a skeptic as I have aged. I kept thinking, could Dr. Kimbrough be right? Or would my fate be no different from those of NFL football players who learned today that kneeling during the National Anthem, also a form of speech, would be banned this coming season? Again, as I resigned myself to my melancholy, I am sure that if I could look at myself, I looked something akin to this meme:

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But alas, Dean Kimbrough was right; what was supposed to be a 30 day suspension was reduced to 24 hours and to paraphrase Tupac from his hit duo with Dr. Dre, “California Love,” Ol’ Hobbs now is “Out on bail, fresh outta (FB) jail, social media dreaming, soon as I stepped on the scene, I hear my followers screaming…”

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In all seriousness, there are far too many of my kin, real life friends and social media friends to thank each of you by name for sharing my article yesterday, or Tweeting at the Facebook powers that be about my case. Please know that I saw what each of you did and I truly love you all.

But the topic of censorship is a serious one because social media has changed how we, the people, communicate about serious subjects pertinent not only to the prosperity of America, but for the propagation of enlightenment within the human race. I promise that I will continue to use my pen and my law license (At my mother’s urging, yes she who can’t stand that “Face-Insta-Snap,” I discussed seeking injunctive relief from Facebook with a heavy-hitter First Amendment lawyer here in Florida today), I will do my part to ensure that a free press, of which I am a freelance member, and free speech are both preserved inviolate

Again, thank you all, and special thanks to Brother Rauch, Sister Strosser and my dear friend who showed so much #HBCULove, Dr. Kimbrough.