Sudbury’s Isak Vaillancourt says he was surprised and a bit sad when he woke up Jan. 31 and found Facebook had deleted the Black Lives Matter Sudbury site a day before the launch of Black History Month programming.
Vaillancourt is director of communications for the group.
He says there wasn’t really an explanation, just a notification from Facebook saying the site had run afoul of community standards.
That’s something with which Vaillancourt resolutely disagrees.
“We reviewed the content on our page and we reviewed the guidelines and it was quite clear that none of our posts, comments or images violated the community standards,” he says. “So it was very strange how that happens, considering that other pages reported for violent racism, false news or transphobia are allowed to stand.”
Vaillancourt says the group had put a lot of work into getting ready for Black History Month and building a community online.
“We rely on Facebook to communicate with their online audiences and, you know, during a global pandemic, online networking and building online communities, it’s more important than ever. So it’s very important for us to have these channels accessible. So it was very, very disheartening.”
While Vaillancourt says he has no idea why Facebook would delete the site, he doesn’t deny that complaints from non-like-minded people may have played a part.
“Yeah, there is a possibility that, you know, people who don’t agree with the cause would have reported the page. But, you know, it would have been nice to have heard that from Facebook directly or have been provided an explanation as to why the page was taken down.”
Vaillancourt says the moment the page was taken down, the group filed an appeal to Facebook and notified community members of what had happened. They also created a back-up site called Black Lives Sudbury STILL Matter.
As for the timing of the incident, he can’t be sure if it was co-incidental.
“I’m not sure. You know, January 31st, one day before Black History Month, the timing is a little fishy, might I say. I mean, we had a lot of exciting programming and content scheduled to go out on the 1st,” he says. “We had to push everything back and we had to push back, you know, our advertising plan. So it’s really suspicious.”
It’s a problem that Vaillancourt learned other Black Lives Matter groups in Guelph and London had also been experiencing.
Ghaida Hamdun is the founder of Black Lives Matter London.
She says Facebook deleted their site in December for similar vague reasons and they’ve been fighting to get it re-instated since.
Hamdun says the group has also had difficulty with Instagram making their posts invisible in other people’s feeds in a process called shadow banning.
Facebook owns Instagram.
Hamdun says it’s upsetting to have their voices silenced especially because there doesn’t seem to be a person to whom they can appeal.
“I honestly didn’t know who to reach out to. I just like, you know, Facebook support, because there isn’t a reason as to why this happened and there isn’t someone to contact to talk about why this happened,” she says. “So it’s kind of just like they remove us and they’re like, OK, deal with it, you know? And then you can’t even deal with it because there’s nothing you can do about it.”
CBC News reached out to Facebook by email to ask why the Black Lives Matter pages in Sudbury, Guelph and London had been taken down, as did Sandy Hudson, co-founder of Black Lives Matter Canada.
Shortly after the inquiry, the three sites were re-published on February 10th and the following statement was sent to CBC and attributed to Erin Taylor, Communications Manager at Facebook Canada.
“We’re inspired by the Black community as people make their voices heard, raise awareness and inspire action using our apps to share their stories. These pages were incorrectly disabled and have since been restored. We apologize for any unintentional hurt caused by the mistakes we made here.”
As for Isak Vaillancourt in Sudbury, the acknowledgement is fine but falls short.
“I do believe that this apology should have been made publicly and directed towards the affected parties. You know, Facebook is a multi-billion dollar corporation with assets around the globe. So if they are truly inspired by black communities, as mentioned in their statement, then it’s time to start taking action. Because the time for talk has passed. It’s time to look into ways and to invest in the black communities, create opportunities for black creators and learn how to actively uplift racialized communities rather than silencing their online voices.”
In a statement on Black Lives Matter Guelph’s site, that group is calling for changes in the reporting process so they’re not stuck with an automated appeal.
They’re also trying to compile a list of other organizations facing similar challenges on social media.
At BLM Sudbury, Vaillancourt says they’lll continue to use Facebook but also rely on a website of their design to ensure their voices are heard.
He notes Facebook has never explained exactly what led to the pages being deleted and worries about it happening again.