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Out Lawmaker Brian Sims on How We Can Fix Facebook

Sims

The Penn. legislator shared a screenshot of an antigay slur sent to him on Facebook. The homophobe wasn't suspended, Sims was.

Nbroverman

It goes along with being an out person in the public eye: Eventually an ignorant jerk will call you an anti-LGBTQ slur over email, Facebook, or Twitter.

Brian Sims, a Pennsylvania lawmaker and the first out gay man to serve in the state's legislature, receives hateful messages on a regular basis. Outspoken on women and queer issues and adamantly opposed to Donald Trump's agenda, Sims is a frequent target of hate speech, which is supposedly banned on most online platforms. Recently, a Christian woman, who declares "Jesus Christ Is Lord" on her Facebook profile, sent Sims the following FB message.

Simshate

Sims, rather innocently, shared a screenshot of the unfriendly missive with his Facebook friends and followers. Instead of Jill Freb being suspended or banned from Facebook, Sims was. No explanation was given for the suspension and Sims was unable to reach anyone at the company. After the rash of bad news out of Facebook recently, including reports that the company funded pro-conversion therapy politicians and blocked gay-themed ads, this move from the tech giant didn't look great.

The block was eventually dropped and Sims received an automated apology from Facebook. The bad taste lingers for Sims, who weighed in on the incident and the questionable policies of Facebook.

The Advocate: It's nearly impossible to get someone on the phone at Facebook when you're banned or suspended; considering many use the platform for business, should the company be implored by the government to have a better response system?
Brian Sims: There's no question that Facebook needs a better system to respond to complaints of bias and hate speech. Anyone who has either been banned or suspended, or anyone that's been the victim of directed hate on the platform and sought redress will tell you that whatever system they have isn't just imperfect, it's not working. I've heard it argued that because it's utilized by so many of it's users for business purposes that it should be additionally regulated. I'm not certain if that's a compelling reason yet but I do envision a future where a company that has ignored years of complaints and requests for better service, and substantive responses to bigotry, is finally brought under stricter regulation.

Considering the reports of Facebook consulting with anti-LGBTQ groups and allowing pro-Trump bots to infiltrate their platform in 2016, what can the Facebook do to regain the trust of the LGBTQ public's trust?
As a legislator, I'm looking to the ways in which Facebook can work with Human Relations Commissions, diversity councils, and regulators to ensure that initial victimizations aren't happening and that if they are, revictimization isn't occurring in the form of negative repercussions to report filers or failed responses from Facebook itself. That said, the legislative answer to this is just a small portion of a larger, comprehensive plan that's proactive and inclusive. The upside for Facebook here is that this country is filled with individuals with expertise on marginalization who can help guide them through a process of learning, understanding, and new action. I'll feel much better about Facebook's future when I see them hiring those people and working with those communities to build solutions together.

On a personal note, when you see a member of the public refer to you as a slur, does it affect you emotionally? Or is it just too common at this point?
I'd be lying if I said it doesn't affect me personally but I don't think it does so in the way that the perpetrators may think. Listen, I work in civil rights and I'm a lawmaker, I know a thing or two about bad actors and oftentimes I know how to shut them down, turn them off, or use their ignorance against them. I don't have or want a thick skin. What I have is an informed skin. Stupid people say stupid things. Racist people say racist things. Ignorant bigots act like ignorant bigots. It's my job to filter through it and not be stunned or stunted by it. It is too common, but it's because they're losing.

Nbroverman
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Neal Broverman

Neal Broverman is the Editorial Director, Print of Pride Media, publishers of The Advocate, Out, Out Traveler, and Plus, spending more than 20 years in journalism. He indulges his interest in transportation and urban planning with regular contributions to Los Angeles magazine, and his work has also appeared in the Los Angeles Times and USA Today. He lives in the City of Angels with his husband, children, and their chiweenie.
Neal Broverman is the Editorial Director, Print of Pride Media, publishers of The Advocate, Out, Out Traveler, and Plus, spending more than 20 years in journalism. He indulges his interest in transportation and urban planning with regular contributions to Los Angeles magazine, and his work has also appeared in the Los Angeles Times and USA Today. He lives in the City of Angels with his husband, children, and their chiweenie.