Bullies Can Silence Native Americans on Facebook With the Click of a Mouse


Last week, we published "I Am Not Your Mascot, Biloxi!", Deloria Many Grey Horses' thoughts on the Biloxi High School Indians mascot and its marching band's tradition of wearing feather headdresses when performing.

Within the piece, Many Grey Horses mentioned that her Facebook page had been suspended through Facebook's troublesome policy of shutting down profiles of users it suspects are not real people. This is a policy that unfairly affected Natives with descriptive last names like "Lone Elk" "Brown Eyes" or "Many Grey Horses."

But what seems like an annoying and unfair issue with the system has morphed into something worse—it's now a vulnerability to be exploited by those who dislike what an American Indian is saying.

Not long after journalist and activist Dana Lone Hill's story of being suspended from Facebook made national news, a white supremacist group called "Pioneer Little Europe" (PLE) claimed responsibility. PLE linked Lone Hill to Last Real Indians, a group that was vocal in the saga of Leith, the town in North Dakota that Craig Cobb intended to make a stronghold of white supremacy. The person running the PLE Facebook page called the act of shutting down Lone Hill's page "ghost activism"—although in plain English, it would better be described as annoyance, harrassment, or bullying—even cyberterrorism on a personal level.

Here's what we're dealing with: If you disagree with an Indian activist, you can report her Facebook page as fake, get it shut down, disrupt her life and saddle her with the arduous task of proving her own identity to get reinstated. It's the rhetorical equivalent of punching someone in the mouth when you realize you're losing an argument.

Colorlines was on to this idea a month ago with the story "How White Separatists Disable Native American Facebook Accounts," although it hinges on putting credence in the statement from PLE, a very small group that is obviously seeking attention. But the events of last week support Colorlines' thesis. Around the time ICTMN was publishing Many Grey Horses' piece, her Facebook page was shut down for a second time. Activists from Not Your Mascot captured the following from a Facebook group supporting the Biloxi High School Band:

Facebook, we have a problem

Although the capture above references "hate speech," Many Grey Horses wasn't suspended for hate speech, she was suspended as a fake profile. It's possible that this particular Biloxi supporter was not the only one who reported Many Grey Horses.

Activist and ICTMN contributor Jacqueline Keeler, who heads the group Eradicate Offensive Native Mascotry (EONM), has run into plenty of static from those who disagree with her online. To protest the actions against Many Grey Horses (who is Keeler's cousin), Keeler and EONM organized a campaign dubbed "All Natives Become Zuckerbergs! Protest FB Name Policy" (hashtagged as #IndigenizeZuckerberg) which called on Natives to change their last names to Zuckerberg (a reference to Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg) and to use the following image on their profile:

Facebook profile campaign image circulated for 'Indigenize Zuckerberg' campaign.

"The way these Facebook 'real name' policies are enforced reveal cultural biases against our people that are still alive in the minds of our peers," Keeler said. "And that is not acceptable. Also, since they rely on an account being "reported" they are useful tools for bullies to use to silence and further marginalize Native people. I cannot silently accept either while I enjoy the protections my surname gives me on FB. That I even have to type that sentence is unbelievable to me in this day and age but then, so is the fact that our people are mascotted. It is all unbelievable and yes, unacceptable in 2015."

Keeler's full statement is available as a Google Doc, as is one provided by Many Grey Horses in which she explains the history of name-giving before and after colonialism.

The action is still ongoing, as many Natives on Facebook continue to use the Zuckerberg photo and name on their profiles—for the latest, visit the "All Natives Become Zuckerbergs! Protest FB Name Policy" Facebook page

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Michael Madrid's picture
Michael Madrid
Submitted by Michael Madrid on
From not teaching Native history in public schools, to Wovoka, to Wounded Knee I & II people have tried to silence us, but they've all been (relatively) unsuccessful. If I cared enough about social media to be a member of Facebook I would adopt these measures to protest. Since I'm not, I'm counting on all of you who DO maintain a Facebook page to help this protest along.