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Facebook is continuing to allow an unidentified user to make pages that encourage the “extermination” of all autistic and “other disabled people.” The original page the user set up was called “Exterminate all Autistics.” It was quickly reported by hundreds of users, and a Change.org petition was created to have the page removed. At first, Facebook ruled against the reports and stated that the page did “not violate the community standards.” But then, hours later, the page was finally taken down.
While Facebook seems to have conceded the point that a page encouraging the extermination of autistic people is most definitely hate speech, the user himself (or herself) has not been banned from Facebook–at least, not yet. New pages and events keep springing up with similar messages. The latest one was called “Exterminate all autistic and all intellectual disabilities.” That page also appears to have been removed, and yet, Facebook is still allowing the user to troll around the social media site, terrorizing autistic people and their support teams with violent threats.
Facebook has a problem with conflating “freedom of speech” promised in the First Amendment with the necessity for private businesses to allow the publication of reprehensible and offensive sentiments. The First Amendment only promises that a person cannot be arrested and put in jail for most things he or she says. It does not promise that people can say whatever they want with no consequences from private citizens and businesses. If Facebook wanted to, it could ban a user from saying anything without exception, and it could permanently ban that user from any participation in the site. What is more, even the First Amendment has a lengthy list of exceptions. Yelling “fire” in a crowded theater, for example, when there is no fire, is just one example of speech that is not protected.
It is not incumbent upon Facebook to allow hate speech, racism, homophobia, sexism, or any other offensive speech. As a private business, Facebook has the right to ban any user for nearly any reason, including offensive things the user says. The page encouraging the extermination of autistic people is not only offensive, it is not protected under the First Amendment either, since it poses a direct threat by encouraging others to commit violent acts. However, even if it was legally protected, there is no reason why Facebook would have to allow such vitriol.
This is not the first time Facebook has been criticized for allowing hate speech. The social media giant is well known for allowing all sorts of deeply racist and offensive content to proliferate. Facebook also allows false information to be spread, such as denial of the Holocaust. People who run such pages on Facebook also say horrible, racist and hateful things against Jews, but Facebook does not care.
Members of the autistic community and their support networks are calling for the user encouraging the extermination of autistic people to be immediately banned from Facebook forever. In addition to this, Facebook needs to severely crack down on hate speech on its site. Period. However, Facebook seems to be too busy banning breastfeeding photos to worry about violent threats toward people who have disabilities.