Popular Atheist Facebook Page Removed After Image of a Billboard Criticizing Mormonism Offends People

***Update***: Unrelated to the billboard image below and Facebook’s claim that it violated community standards, I’m hearing from a lot of you about how this particular Facebook page was notorious for posting images/memes without giving proper credit to their creators and claiming them as their own creations. If that’s true, I apologize for giving them any publicity. I’ll do my best to find out more information and speak to the moderators of the page.

***Update 2***: Well, I fucked this one up. I apologize to everyone for publicizing a group that posts images from other sites without giving them credit. Even if Facebook pulled them for the billboard, they should have been pulled for content-stealing a long time ago. Thanks to everyone who sent me emails with evidence of their malfeasance. You can read more about this issue here.

I’ll try to do better next time.

The Atheists and Rational Thinkers group on Facebook had more than 113,000 members (which is pretty damn impressive) and served up a frequent dose of funny memes/screenshots pertaining to religion, but Facebook just removed the group from the site for violating its terms of service.

Specifically, they said one particular image went against the site’s community standards and that’s why the page was taken down.

Which image? This billboard from American Atheists:

It’s completely accurate, by the way — the Mormon church didn’t allow blacks to join church leadership until 1978 and gay people (who want to act on their homosexuality, anyway) sure as hell aren’t welcome there.

It’s also an image that appeared on several websites after American Atheists announced that they would publicize it on a mobile ad truck in the month before the 2012 elections.

Despite all that, Facebook said that image went too far:

It seems to me like religious people were so offended by the content of the entire page — it pokes at their razor-thin sensibilities — that they flagged images all they could until they finally found one that Facebook staffers hastily agreed crossed the line.

The staffers didn’t read the sign carefully enough.

Just to be clear: There’s nothing offensive about that image. It just restates Mormon practices and makes them look bad in the process. Screenshots from the Book of Mormon would’ve achieved the same result.

The moderator of the atheist page, Edward Watson, has appealed the decision. On a makeshift page to keep people updated about the appeal, Watson explains what he wrote in his appeal to Facebook:

I would request you to republish my page; my content did no harm to anyone, my content did not breed hate or intolerance, and my content generally tried to encourage behaviors that I believe will make people’s lives better. People may not always agree with my positions, but I always let people voice their disagreement.

Facebook can still re-publish the page, but if Watson loses on appeal, the page (and the entire backlog of posts and comments) will be deleted for good.

It’s all very reminiscent of MySpace’s takedown of Bryan Pesta‘s 35,000-member-strong “Atheist and Agnostic Group” in 2008:

“My personal profile was deleted as well, and despite weeks of emails to customer service, plus a petition signed by 500 group members, MySpace won’t budge. I think these actions send a clear message to the 30 million godless people in America (and to businesses whose money was spent displaying ads on our group) that we are not welcome on MySpace,” said Pesta.

After the Secular Student Alliance put out a press release about the group, MySpace restored it days later without any comment.

Facebook needs to do the same with Watson’s group — and an apology would be nice, too.

***Update***: I asked Edward about some of the commenters’ criticisms of the page.

He says he posted things about pseudoscience, not as fact, but for the sake of discussion. He also posted about America’s obesity epidemic and rationalizations people offered for eating meat — why? I’m not sure — but none of those were among the reasons cited by Facebook as to why they took down the page.

About Hemant Mehta

Hemant Mehta is the editor of Friendly Atheist, appears on the Atheist Voice channel on YouTube, and co-hosts the uniquely-named Friendly Atheist Podcast. You can read much more about him here.


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