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By Rich Niebaum, Buffalo Grove, Illinois
Published: June 19, 2020

I am an author. I didn’t set out to also become a publisher, let alone an editorial board. But what happened after I published my essay Confronting Racism on June 17, 2020, gave me a more empathetic appreciation of Mark Zuckerberg’s challenge. An article by Vice on August 23, 2018, described it as, “The Impossible Job: Inside Facebook’s Struggle to Moderate Two Billion People.”

Soon after creating a Facebook post linking to my inaugural essay at, I saw a nice comment from my cousin in southern Kansas. Moments later, I sat in excitement and hopeful anticipation as three little dots danced on my screen, indicating that someone was typing another comment. As moments turned to minutes, I tried to busy myself with email but kept glancing back at my comment thread, wondering with a gnawing anxiety what might be forthcoming.

Then came the first missive from a high school classmate of mine who began his screed with “A ‘Racism problem‘ ??” and went on to suggest that  “there is no way to justify George Floyd’s death as racism unless someone is upset that a Native American cop wasn’t there too.”

Suppressing my first thought, “See! This is why I don’t post about potentially controversial topics,” I instead took a deep breath and reminded myself that collectively, we have a lot of healing to do. Then I engaged.

Others jumped in, and battling links were offered in support of divergent narratives. At times I inserted my voice into the thread. In other moments, I let my friends carry the water (thank you). But for two days, I clung to a hope that with enough rational, polite, and loving counter arguments, a chorus of voices might be able to influence my now former Facebook friend. When it became clear to me that he was not going to change his mind on my schedule and would instead likely continue spewing vitriol into my own Facebook wall, I felt an editorial responsibility to properly address the mess he had left all over my virtual living room carpet.

I felt a range of emotions around the whole back and forth and what was said. Still, the only question that really mattered to me was this: What serves the highest good for the greatest number of people? Do I leave documentary evidence for how accurate my essay really was? Or do I unfriend my high school classmate and delete his comments, distancing myself from any tacit endorsement for his views, which I found to be lacking in empathy, coherence, and basis in fact. When I had asked him repeatedly, “…do you feel that the killing of George Floyd was justified and appropriate?” my former Facebook friend dodged and pivoted, saying this: “I don’t have any reason to believe that those 4 officers where [sic] intentionally trying to kill George Floyd. I also don’t know that the officers are trying to justify killing him, but it is appropriate for police officers to use force when someone is trying to resist arrest. George Floyd had been in jail or prison more than nine times. Could he have possibly thought that resisting arrest would have a good outcome for him?”

For me that response felt close enough to a glorification of violence that I knew, not only in my heart, but also in my new role as a publisher and editorial board, I would have to take his comments down. As part of my homework on what my next moves would be, I researched how Facebook addresses the challenge of giving people a space to exercise freedom of speech while managing the risks of inciting violence or inadvertently supporting hate speech. According to their policy, Facebook does not allow hate speech “because it creates an environment of intimidation and exclusion and in some cases may promote real-world violence.”

I found myself appreciating Facebook’s voluntary adherence to international human rights laws, defined by the United Nations Human Rights Office of the High Commissioner, which decades ago in 1976 adopted and ratified a “Covenant” in which nations agreed upon stating their support for “the inherent dignity and of the equal and inalienable rights of all members of the human family” as being “the foundation of freedom, justice and peace in the world.”

I reviewed the details of Facebook’s policy and, in particular, their adaptation of Article 19 of the “International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights,” which states:

Article 19

  1. Everyone shall have the right to hold opinions without interference.

  2. Everyone shall have the right to freedom of expression; this right shall include freedom to seek, receive and impart information and ideas of all kinds, regardless of frontiers, either orally, in writing or in print, in the form of art, or through any other media of his choice.

  3. The exercise of the rights provided for in paragraph 2 of this article carries with it special duties and responsibilities. It may therefore be subject to certain restrictions, but these shall only be such as are provided by law and are necessary:

    (a) For respect of the rights or reputations of others;

    (b) For the protection of national security or of public order (ordre public), or of public health or morals.

In accordance with Paragraph 3, particularly in light of my responsibility to protect my reputation and the rights and reputations of others associating with me through Facebook and other means of social interaction, this is my response to the offending posts within my personal Facebook wall:

  1. I archived the entire conversation thread, in case of any subsequent disagreements about what was said;

  2. I unfriended my high school classmate;

  3. I wrote and published this commentary, “Editorial Responsibility,” on on June 19, 2020.

  4. I created the following Editorial Policy that will guide my decisions about curating comments within my Facebook wall, over which I have editorial responsibility:

    • At a minimum, posts on my Facebook wall must adhere to Facebook Community Standards

    • If you disagree with a position I have taken, post your rebuttal in respectful language that is rooted in: empathy, coherence, and a basis in fact.

    • Posts that simply disparage my point of view without substantive evidence will be deleted and may result in removal of the privilege of commenting on my posts.

Finally, on this day, known as Juneteenth, commemorating the end of slavery in the United States, I’d like to end with appreciation for a few perspectives in recognition of the day’s importance:

  1. The Washington Post, with their June 19, 2020, publication of an article titled, “Juneteenth celebrates ‘a moment of indescribable joy’: Slavery’s end in Texas”;

  2. USA Today, with multiple perspectives offered by important thought leaders, including Kamala Harris, Stacey Abrams, BLM Co-founder Patrisse Cullors, and others, in a feature on June 19, 2020, explaining “what Juneteenth means to them amidst protests against police brutality.”

  3.  An Opinion piece by columnist Jamie Bouille, published in The New York Times, on June 19, 2020, titled, “Why Juneteenth Matters.”