The Silencing of Atheists on Facebook

silencedI had heard of people being banned for saying silly things like “Bob doesn’t believe in God” and I figured people were simply exaggerating and that there was probably more to it. But then it happened to me… well, almost. While in a Facebook discussion group, I became interested in a thread in which a fundie was refuting DNA evidence in support of the Neanderthal ancestry of most people not directly out of Africa. At one point, she became very frustrated that the evidence just kept piling up against her position and reported me three times at once to facebook when I defended another poster who said she was “behaving like an idiot.” Luckily, nothing happened. But the fact remains that she was willing to disrupt my communications with my friends and family because she is a sore loser. When I made it known to other users in the group what she tried to do, they informed me that in another group where she has several other fundamentalist friends, she summons them to make multiple reports which together results in account suspensions.

UPDATE: My Sharky Byte account was reported by a disgruntled Shroud of Turin supporter who was angered by the overwhelming evidence against the authenticity of the shroud as presented by me and reported me for having a “fake name.” The result was Facebook suspending my account indefinitely pending satisfactory evidence of my real name as supported by identification sent to them via images of my driver’s licence/State ID, birth certificate, library card, business card, etc. So in other words, the name I used to protect myself and the feeling of being safe to speak my mind while protected by a pseudonym was false and my facebook identity would ultimately end up being tied to my real name and thus cause me potential harm in the professional world as well as with my personal life.   

What we have here is a case of mobs of bullies silencing critics by abusing the reporting policy of Facebook. Depending on whether the person on the facebook side receiving the report is a fundie or not, we can only imagine that the desire to “win” might be greater than the desire to do the right thing and ignore silly reports by people who are simply angry because they are not able to produce any evidence in support of their claims. And Facebook is willing to uphold suspensions based on pen names and most people using pen names do not have identification to prove those are the names they use outside of Facebook. Because most do not use them outside of Facebook. Facebook clearly wants people to use their real identities because these identities are more interesting for advertisers and “partners” and the government . And this translates into having more value for Facebook. My Sharky Byte account is worthless to them.

So what to do?

One thing I would suggest is to send out an alert to everyone you know and provide the names of the people making these kinds of reports and suggest your friends block them immediately. And block them yourself. They cannot be offended if they can’t see your posts. And they cannot report you either. No amount of fun or challenge in conversing  with these dangerous zealots is worth having these time bombs out there ready to blow up your facebook account at any moment. Another thing you may want to do is to make the admins of the facebook groups where this happens aware of these people so they can monitor them and ban them from the group when they can verify your claims to be true. Or you can walk on eggshells and effectively limit your own free speech out of respect for people who clearly have no respect for you.

It is true that ad hominem – using epithets and insults – is not the best way to conduct a discussion. This is usually what fundies resort to when they realize their arguments are failing. Atheists should try and be careful not to give fundies the ammunition they are looking for which is anything they can use to qualify their position that we are immoral “I’ll-do-whatever-I-want” heathens with no self-control. What I have learned is that direct insults can be changed into simple observations by using the proper wording. For example:

“You’re a fucking idiot” can be changed to:

“I’m sorry, but maybe we should end this discussion here as it appears you do not posses the intellectual fortitude to continue. May I suggest reading (book a, book b, book c)…?”

“You’re God is not real” can be changed to:

“So far there has been no evidence put forward in support of your God that does not also support many other gods. You can’t all be right. Do you have some new evidence that supports YOUR God that the greatest minds in the past 2500 years overlooked? ”

“Your God is a monster” can be changed to:

“Yahweh, the God of Abrahamic origin, is a war god and so we can only expect that he would posses the attributes of one who is hardened by the systematic killing of others.”

“Creationism is idiotic” can be changed to:

“Evolutionary biology is the impetus for renewable energy and all modern medicine and is consistently improving lives. Meanwhile, creation “science” has yet to produce one single thing – not even a single peer-reviewed study.”

I think you get the point. It’s best to be informed and use the power of knowledge as your sword than to use a very tempting quick and effective observations that comes off as an insults.  Also, be proactive in warning friends about fundies who aim to curtail your free speech rights. Block dangerous people so they are no longer a danger to you. Be informed. Be pro-active. Be a positive force of atheism.

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SC Rowland is a secularist, activist, and founder of Secular Press.

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