In Selected Opinion
By Faith McDonnell – The Stream
EDITORIAL UPDATE: After much publicity and advocacy, Faith McDonnell’s Facebook account was reinstated on February 20, 2019.
A Christian human rights activist and Stream contributor loses her account. Facebook rejects her appeal and walls off further communication – February 18, 2019

Faith McDonnell

Dear Facebook:

There was no teeth gnashing, but there was wailing. Well, I may have also gnashed my teeth a bit, thinking of some choice names for you.

Frequently when I’ve been on Facebook searching through treasured photo memories, I’ve had the fleeting thought, “Wow, what if I ever lost all this!” I had no idea that moment was soon coming. But it did last week, February 15. You, Facebook, informed me my account had been disabled for “violating community standards.”

February 15 became the day you cut me off. Cut me off from over 2000 friends and thousands of photos on Facebook, from communicating on Messenger, and even from using my extremely innocuous Instagram. But it was already a date to remember. And that’s what actually got me in trouble.

A Well-Known Image of Christian Suffering

On February 15, 2015, 21 men were slaughtered on a Libyan seashore by ISIS. The 20 Coptic Christians and their fellow martyr, Matthew from Ghana, were the subject of the jihadis’ grisly snuff film sent to the “People of the Cross.” The image of those soon-to-be-saints in orange jumpsuits kneeling on the beach in front of their killers became a powerful testimony of Christ’s victory over death and hell.

On that anniversary I decided to honor these courageous and faithful men on my Facebook page. Scrolling through photos I had posted on Facebook in the past without ever a problem, I found that well-known image and made it my temporary Facebook profile photo. Then it happened!

Scrolling through photos I had posted on Facebook in the past without ever a problem, I found that well-known image and made it my temporary Facebook profile photo. Then it happened!

You know, Facebook, it would have been kinder of you to send an alarm and flashing lights to my computer screen declaring You are banished forever! But no, you had to play games. First, you logged me out. Then I found that, try as I might, I could not log in. Finally, believing I must have forgotten my password, I requested a re-set. Then you revealed the truth. You were kicking me off Facebook for violating The Community Standards with such despicable actions as:

  • Credible threats to harm others
  • Support for violent organizations
  • Exceedingly graphic content

Rejected Appeal

Then, you big impersonal, non-human entity allowed me to appeal through a little, impersonal, non-human form — yet one which demanded of me a photo of my driver’s license, or other I.D. So I did, with great trepidation. But you sent another impersonal, non-human, farcical email:

Hi, we’ve reviewed your account and determined that it hasn’t followed the Facebook Terms. This has resulted in the permanent loss of your account. One of our main priorities is the comfort and safety of the people who use Facebook, and we don’t allow credible threats to harm others, support for violent organizations or exceedingly graphic content on Facebook.

Wow! So what had I done? Well, Facebook, even you could not accuse me of “credible threats to harm others.” That’s definitely not my gig.

As for “supporting violent organizations!” If anything, I do the polar opposite. I’m a 25+ year human rights advocate focused on global persecution of religious believers and other issues such as sex trafficking. I have worked with members of Congress and numerous administrations. I support organizations and individuals that are against violent organizations.

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You don’t have the courage to define or categorize those “violent organizations,” Facebook. Especially those that belong to a certain Ideology That Dare Not be Named. ISIS, of course, is one of those groups. But anyone who sees the photo I posted of ISIS killers standing over praying Christians and assumes I “support violent organizations” would have to be an idiot. And incidentally, how many supporters of ANTIFA, Hamas, etc. have had their accounts disabled?

21 Coptic Martyrs with names

Finally we come to “exceedingly graphic content.” Have a look at the picture embedded in this article Is that exceedingly graphic? Hardly. But it’s hard to share very important information about people persecuted in places like China, Pakistan, Sudan, Nigeria, Iraq, Syria, and Libya without photos demonstrating their suffering.

Arbitrary Decisions

So I don’t just post family and friends, sunrises in Maine, demonstrations and rallies for freedom in Sudan, vacations to Florida, trips to Africa, Israel, and Ireland, and other wonderful photos. I share heartbreaking pictures of hungry children in Sudan’s Nuba Mountains, girls held captive by Boko Haram, Christian women prisoners like Meriam Ibrahim and Asia Bibi, members of Falun Gong beaten by Chinese officials, and Assyrian Christians and Yazidis in unfinished, concrete shelters because they are in danger even in refugee camps.

I have shared stories and photos refuting accepted narratives in Nigeria and South Sudan. And I have posted photos of the current uprising in Sudan. That’s something Khartoum’s lobbyists like Squire Patton Boggs and apologists like the Atlantic Council want to remain in the shadows.

Perhaps Facebook community standards should enable people to find the truth about the world, if they are interested. It is an exceedingly violent world. But it is also a world full of brave heroes and courageous saints who bring hope, faith, love, and truth to the broken and despairing.

A wise friend of mine says that “Facebook is young, inexperienced college grads making arbitrary decisions based on murky and unqualified moral frameworks designed to appease the greatest number of critics, combined with a corporate ethos that scrapes and sells private data for profit.” Ouch!

Pushed Out of Communication

But Facebook, I have valued you. Many times I have said to myself and others, “Thank God for Facebook!” I have reconnected with old friends from high school and college, and with men and women who were “my kids” on three 1980’s mission trips to Northern Ireland. Facebook has given me the only way to communicate with valiant men and women in places like Iraq, Syria, Kenya, Ethiopia, Nigeria, Sudan, and South Sudan working to make their world better.

Facebook has given me the only way to communicate with valiant men and women in places like Iraq, Syria, Kenya, Ethiopia, Nigeria, Sudan, and South Sudan working to make their world better.

Beyond your impersonal email entity, can you understand that, Facebook? You twisted the knife by stating that you would not be able to reactivate my account for any reason. And you said that “this would be the last email regarding [my] account.” Would you feel differently if I could talk to you and reason with you? And if you don’t, and you don’t really want truth-tellers on Facebook, can you at least allow me to retrieve my data? Then I can reach out from the outer darkness to those friends and they won’t think I have abandoned them as you have abandoned me.

Faith J. H. McDonnell directs the Institute on Religion and Democracy’s Religious Liberty Program and Church Alliance for a New Sudan and is the author of Girl Soldier: A Story of Hope for Northern Uganda’s Children (Chosen Books, 2007).
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