SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico — Facebook on Oct. 24 once again disabled a transgender activist’s personal page, following a string of bans this year and prior issues with the platform.
C Rivera, who is from Puerto Rico and identifies as a non-binary trans woman, has had trouble with Facebook since they created their account in 2009. Pedro Julio Serrano, an LGBTQ activist who is also from Puerto Rico, was able to access his page on Oct. 21 after being banned since August. Serrano and Rivera have worked with each other in the past in their advocacy work, as well.
Shortly after Serrano reclaimed his page, Rivera, who spoke with the Los Angeles Blade on their history with bans on the platform, had their page completely disabled because they did not follow Facebook’s “community standards.” The action also cannot be reversed, and Rivera cannot create another account. They did not receive an explanation for the decision to disable their page.
“Digital death is what this means, right? It’s very finite,” they said. “And the attitude of having no process of appeal whatsoever or dialogue—it’s actually surprising.”
Facebook did not respond directly to Rivera’s case, but a spokesperson said hate speech is difficult to accurately detect because of the variability of the act that can be visual, text-based or in different languages.
Rivera has had six bans alone this year, all with varying time limits.
Facebook on Oct. 20 reversed a 30-day ban on their profile. Days later, Facebook completely disabled their page, which Rivera said is rare. They told the Blade that Facebook usually issues bans with an explanation or follow a prolonged ban.
Rivera said this increased censorship is because of their identity. Often, they write back against hate speech directed to them and trans people, which has been the cause of most of the bans, they said. Rivera once posted a screenshot of a transphobic message directed to them and was promptly banned, they said.
Facebook outlines guidelines online, and it recognizes under its “objectionable content” terms that hate speech can be reused in an empowering way. The intent of publication should be “clear,” but it’s unknown what standard Facebook uses to deem a post as “clear.”
“In some cases, words or terms that might otherwise violate our standards are used self-referentially or in an empowering way … we allow the content but expect people to clearly indicate their intent, which helps us better understand why they shared it. Where the intention is unclear, we may remove the content,” the “objectionable content” guidelines read.
Facebook wrote in an email the platform uses both artificial intelligence and human review systems to regulate harmful content. But Rivera said Facebook also bans them and other LGBTQ people who do not “defend themselves.”
Groups that are subject to attack have been banned for “attracting trouble for existing,” they said. The pages and users who incite the attacks are not reviewed to such a degree as LGBTQ pages and users, and the disproportionate censoring could be due to the algorithms and systems in place, they said.
Serrano said this has been an ongoing problem on the platform.
“It’s unfortunate, and it’s clearly a pattern that we’ve been noticing that LGBTQ activists are being censored in some way,” Serrano said. “So we need for Facebook to be an open and free space for people to communicate and to do the activism. That that is so critical to saving lives.”
Losing the activism aspect of the platform is not Rivera’s concern, they said. There are several powerful advocates on Facebook, like Serrano. Their concern and frustration are more on the personal side of not having the means to connect with friends and family, inability to share photos and difficulty accessing outside services set up through their Facebook account. The sentimental aspects they saved to Facebook are now not accessible, such a memorial post they wrote to their father who died in 2015, they said.
“I don’t have access pictures of my cats that I had,” they said. “I had all of those things and I no longer have them.”
Rivera said they’ve had their page disabled once before, in 2015, when they tried to change their name after coming out to some friends and family as trans. Facebook disabled the account pending verification of identification after attempting to change their name. About a week later, their page was restored, but with their deadname.
While using names printed on government identification relates to Facebook’s push for “authenticity,” Rivera said these efforts are inherently transphobic.
Despite their trouble with the platform, Rivera said if their page is granted back to them, they will continue to use the platform to organize, connect with people and share content. Rivera has submitted a request to review the disabled page.
“I’m willing to dialogue with Facebook. I understand the complexity of what they face,” they said. “But I also think that they need to be more conscious of the differences in how we get treated.”