Justice Department protected Christian group when Facebook failed to
Conservatives should commend Facebook CEO, Mark Zuckerberg. Unlike the other internet moguls riding high along the information highway, Zuckerberg has stood fast for free speech.
But sometimes Zuckerberg and Co. miss the mark, as badly as Dr. Anthony Fauci missed home plate in tossing out the first pitch at a recent Washington Nationals game.
The case of Chase Davis of Pompano Beach, Florida, illustrates the point.
According to the American Family Association, or AFA, a Christian, pro-family activist group in Mississippi, Davis posted a pair of threats on the organization’s Facebook page in May 2019.
In the first post, Davis ranted, “[I] am coming to tupelo unexpected with a group of people and we are going to kill every single person who runs your group.” After the AFA replied with a bland, boilerplate response, Davis shot back, “you are the most disgusting people in [A]merica. [I] have put together a group to have you pieces of [expletive] obliterated into dust. yes, [I] literally mean killing all of you. you people are nothing but disgusting, warn [sic] out, and old excuses of human life.”
The AFA appealed to Facebook. And that went nowhere, the group said. Facebook determined that Davis’s threat did not violate its standards.
Facebook’s “community standards” page says the company bans hate speech “because it creates an environment of intimidation and exclusion and in some cases may promote real-world violence.” Facebook defines such speech as “a direct attack on people based on what we call protected characteristics — race, ethnicity, national origin, religious affiliation, sexual orientation, caste, sex, gender, gender identity, and serious disease or disability.” Moreover, it adds, “We define attack as violent or dehumanizing speech, statements of inferiority, or calls for exclusion or segregation.”
In weighing violent talk on its platform, Facebook states that it removes “language that incites or facilitates serious violence.” Continuing, the policy declares, “We remove content, disable accounts, and work with law enforcement when we believe there is a genuine risk of physical harm or direct threats to public safety. … In determining whether a threat is credible, we may also consider additional information like a person’s public visibility and the risks to their physical safety.”
Since its founding in 1977, the AFA among groups on the right has taken some of the most provocative stances in the culture war, especially on morality and other sex-related matters. In many respects, the AFA’s ideas are an acquired taste.
But you don’t have to agree with them to understand that even back in May 2019, long before coronavirus and the death of George Floyd, one never knew what people were capable of in our hypercharged political environment.
And that was the position of the Justice Department.
Simultaneous with its appeal to Facebook, the AFA approached the Justice Department with a criminal complaint about Davis. The U.S. attorney for the northern district of Mississippi took Davis seriously and secured a criminal indictment.
On July 20, 2020, a federal judge in Florida sentenced Davis to six months in prison and another three years of probation, the AFA announced.
Moreover, Davis was ordered to pay $1,440 in restitution for the amount the AFA spent on security to protect its staff following his threat. Additionally, Davis must also participate in drug and mental health treatment and perform 400 hours of community service.
In a statement, U.S. Attorney William Lamar said, “It is important to protect free speech, but when it crosses the line and becomes threats to harm others on the basis of race, religious beliefs, political affiliations or other protected reasons, we will use federal laws to hold those individuals accountable for their actions.”
Facebook deserves kudos for defending free speech more vigorously than others in Silicon Valley. Yet the company failed the AFA in this instance. Good thing federal prosecutors did what Facebook was unwilling to: take seriously and hold accountable a menace to law-abiding people.
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