Facebook Refuses to Remove Group Promoting Anti-Cyclist Violence

bike_hate_1.gifScreenshot from the Facebook group promoting dooring, among other acts that injure cyclists.

A number of Streetsblog readers have noticed a particularly loathsome group that has sprouted up on Facebook and has a legion of fans. As of this writing, more than 32,000 people are fans of "There’s a perfectly good bike path right next to the road you stupid cyclist," a group page with a bunch of anti-cyclist screeds and some pretty nasty photos of bicycle crashes and car-on-bike violence. Facebook has concluded that the group does not violate the site’s terms of use and will not shut it down.

"It’s a stupid and offensive joke and unfortunately there are still
people who don’t see that bicyclists have the same rights as
everyone else," said Marc Caswell, program manager at the San Francisco Bicycle Coalition. "It’s a cruel example of the
ignorance of cyclists’ rights. We would encourage people to report it
as offensive."

The site is full of the vitriol one has come to expect online and in anonymous comment sections, but unlike blogs or online forums, all the fuming leaves a clear path to the users who posted it.

The first user to link the group was from Australia, and several of the references to road rules are of British provenance or from former British colonies. In the "About Me" section, it reads: "No matter how far to the left you are, you’re taking up my road. My car is hard, and i am not slowing down!"

bike_hate_2A photo from a road race on June 3, 2008 in Mexico, when a drunk driver killed one cyclist and injured more than ten others. Posted to the group by Sean Tysoe

In addition to creating a counter group called "HELP REMOVE this HATE GROUP against cyclists!", a number of cyclists have become fans of the original group and have posted agitprop in the form of bicycle photos. While there are disturbing photos of cars creaming cyclists and road signs promoting violence against cyclists, the photo album is full of pictures of the kind of bike porn you might expect on Bike Blog or Fixed Gear Gallery. And there are easily as many photos of "Share the Road" signs as the opposite.

Streetsblog asked Facebook whether this group violates their Terms of Use, particularly sections 6 and 7, under
"Safety":

6. You will not bully, intimidate, or harass any user.
7.
You will not post content that is hateful, threatening, pornographic,
or that contains nudity or graphic or gratuitous violence.

Facebook’s Simon Axten told us the group has been reviewed and deemed kosher by the company’s staff. Presumably the reason they are not removing this group boils down to how one interprets the phrase "actionable threats of violence." Here’s Axten’s explanation:

We take our Statement of Rights and Responsibilities very seriously and react quickly to remove reported content that violates our policies. Specifically, we’re sensitive to content that includes hate speech and/or actionable threats of violence. The goal of these policies is to strike a very delicate balance between giving Facebook users the freedom to express their opinions and beliefs, even controversial ones, and maintaining a safe and trusted environment.

We’ve reviewed this group and determined that it doesn’t violate our policies.  We encourage users to report anything they feel does violate these policies using the report links located throughout the site. Thanks.

law_of_physics.jpgPosted to the group by Chelsea Kerr

Any legal minds care to comment?

H/T Bike Portland.

  • Hate speech is protected by the First Amendment.

  • Bolwerk

    The anti-bike FB group is a public service. It’s something to point to show how attractive cars are to sociopaths.

    (In all fairness, I think bikers often behave irresponsibly too. I tend towards a pedestrian lifestyle, and an obnoxious minority of bikers behave very disrespectfully.)

  • Hate speech is protected by the constitution, but Facebook is a private entity which is not legally required to provide a forum for such speech, hence the “terms of service” agreement which defines the rights and responsibilities of members.

  • DingDong

    I’m no cyber-law or freedom of expression expert, but the First Amendment has been held to apply to some shopping malls since they create the only public space/forum for expression in a community, even if the malls are technically a private entity. I imagine counsel at Facebook is aware of the caselaw and is perhaps being sensitive to it. They may also want to err on the side of freedom of expression so as not to galvanize people into passing legislation (telephone companies, for example, are private actors and though the Constitution does not apply to them, there is a statute saying they can’t engage in viewpoint discrimination — Facebook probably wants to avoid getting a statute like that to apply to them).

    I doubt there is any legal requirement either to remove the site or to leave it up, but will defer to someone more knowledgeable of the field.

  • DingDong

    I should add that while I think it is idiotic that hate speech is protected by the First Amendment and the Supreme Court is surely wrong about this, I think Facebook is probably right here. I would want them to err on the side of expression: I doubt this group is really going to get anyone hurt, but imagine if Facebook started banning Critical Mass groups (sometimes does lead to violence and some people in the comments probably would call for smashing windows etc.) or more political protests against, say, WTO (those things always end up in violence). I realize there is a line between “end up in violence” and “actually advocate violence”, but given the power of Facebook as an organizing tool for genuine causes and the relatively low likelihood that the sociopaths will be inspired to hurt someone by the Facebook group, I think it’s likely right for Facebook to err on the side of not parsing the difference too closely. But what do I know?

  • BicyclesOnly

    My point, which I didn’t make very well is that it’s generally best to either creatively engage or just ignore idiots like this, rather than try to suppress their speech, even in a private forum where the First Amendment does not apply.

  • All excellent, valid points by the previous commenters and I agree that hate speech, as much as we might dislike it, is protected by the First Amendment. I think that some of the comments here (and even some of the actual posts) could be construed as hate speech against the drivers of cars.

    To say that you hate cyclists and that they should be removed from the roads is one thing. However, to call for physical violence against cyclists, is what is termed a “terroristic threat,” particularly when that threat is directed at a certain group of people, and my understanding is that is a crime.

    Oddly enough, from my brief look at the page, I saw little evidence of that there.

  • DingDong

    Wait, to be clear: there is no way calling for violence against cyclists is “hate speech” in the way that term is usually used. So that Facebook page doesn’t contain hate speech.
    Hate speech has to be targeted against a protected class: a racial group, gender, sexual orientation (increasingly, but now always), maybe the mentally ill (only sometimes) and there a few others. Cyclists have never been a protected class in this sense. It’s the same reason that cyclists can’t sue because someone has violated their constitutional right to equality: not a protected class.

  • DingDong

    One more post and then I will shut up: believe it or not, calling for violence is constitutionally protected so long as it is done in the abstract. The state can’t punish someone for saying “I think we should kill all cyclists” (or replace cyclists with whatever word you like. The only exception is if the violence would be imminent: say, you are making a fiery speech to a drunken, armed mob — that can be banned. Of course, as others have noted, Facebook is not the state so it has a little more freedom to ban certain things etc.

  • DingDong,

    I would suggest the such anti-cycling groups are indeed “making a fiery speech to a drunken (often), armed mob (cars can easily kill).” The only difference is that the mob is online and spread around the globe.

    I would also suggest that cyclists are a “persecuted group” (I don’t like the term “protected class”). In the past I’ve been the victim of violence simply because of the mode of transport I choose. Without provocation I’ve had things thrown at me, cursed at and threatened with deadly violence (buzzed unnecessarily by cars at high speed with little passing room) while riding my bike.

    I know that countless others can recall similar stories. The one thing that all of these stories will have in common is that they were singled out for violence because they were riding a bike.

  • DingDong

    Andy,

    Fair enough — there’s no reason to think current First Amendment law or Equal protection is correct (a lot of it is really odd and should be changed). All I’m saying is that if you went to court today saying cyclists are a protected class, the judge would laugh at you – and the same goes for claiming that that Facebook page is an “incitement to crime” or “fighting words” or whatever the relevant exception to freedom of expression is.

  • BicyclesOnly

    Ding Dong is doing a good job of keeping me honest on my use of legal terminology and I appreciate it! “Hate speech” traditionally refers to speech designed to derogate the rights of a “suspect” or protected class, qua class. Bicyclists are not recognized as such a class. However heightened constitutional protection often extends not only to members of suspect classes, but also persons targeted based on the exercise of a fundamental right, including the right to travel. I think the “hate speech” concept has comparable utility in analyzing the constitutional value of speech aimed at derogating cyclists’ fundamental right to travel the public roads, as it does in analyzing the value of speech aimed at derogating the rights of members of, say, ethnic or religious groups. So I’m comfortable using it as a shorthand to refer to a FB page aimed at derogating cyclists’ interests in life, security and freedom of movement based on those cyclists’ exercise of the fundamental right of travel (which, at least in the Second Circuit, includes interstate travel).
    As a matter of decided law, I don’t believe that hate speech of any kind has been found to merit constitutional protection against restrictions by private, non-state actors, such as universities or Face Book. However, I do vaguely recall that the Civil War-era civil rights statutes did establish a private right of action against civil conspiracies aimed at depriving others of their federal constitutional rights, such as the right of travel (was it section 1981? 1985?). If I’m remembering that correctly, there might in fact be a colorable legal argument for shutting down this offensive FB site after all, to the extent it is seen as inciting violence with the aim of depriving cyclists of their right to travel the roads (even if the incitement is not against specific individuals in a classical “fighting words” context).

    But as I said before, it makes much better political sense to ignore idiots like this, or creatively engage them (I think flooding their site with benign images of cyclists is brilliant), than to bring attention to their pathetic ravings by trying to suppress them.

  • Clutch J

    Hear, hear!

    BicyclesOnly nails it–

    >it’s generally best to either creatively engage or just ignore idiots like this, rather than try to suppress their speech

  • MRB

    I think this is overreactionary. This is a silly little facebook group. Best to let sleeping dogs lie.

  • Clutch J

    Of course it’s best to ignore them. What do we want, a NYT front-page he-said, she-said article on this dust-up??!!

  • Mellow Yellow

    Now keep in mind that the 1st amendment is not valid in NYC anyhow…just ask anyone who has attended a penned-in “protest” in the last decade, or anyone who has shown up for a Critical Mass ride in Manhattan or Brooklyn Show up to Union Square/Grand Army Plaza on the last Friday/second Friday of the month, and witness how your right to assemble, or travel (by bike) is intensely policed. Tonight, we had 5 bikes and 10 NYPD vehicles. Burning the gas and the tax dollars!

    I propose some Massive-stlye riding on First Fridays, 7pm, Union Square North. Exercise your right to the road, your freedom to assemble, free of police harrassment! But I am not on Facebook…can you post this event up there for me?

  • painful, I’ve had a couple of motorists shout at me for not using perfectly useless cycle lanes (i.e. pavements with a bike sign on it)…

  • Rick Riley

    Guys, The US Constitution does not protect four basic categories of speech. You can’t just say any old thing without consequences. Hate speech is most definitely not protected by the US Constitution.

  • Facebook leaves up tons of “hate”-related groups.

    I have several friends who served in the Iraq or Afghanistan wars (or are still there, chatting away at the base), and I see their Facebook activity, where they join groups whose sole mission is to get a bunch of people together to persuade Facebook to remove an anti-war group.

    The same thing is happening here. A group forms that hates/dislikes a group of people or characterization, and then a second group forms to “dispromote” the first group.

    I agree with BicyclesOnly (#6 above) that we should just ignore them. The group has only 32,000 members, and in the whole scheme of Facebook, it has more than 300 million members.

    Let’s promote safe cycling and driving where it will probably count the most: Our police departments, elected persons, and our friends and family.

  • Oo. Can I just say that being against a war, or wars in general, is not the same as hating any person, group of people, or “characterization”?

    This group is arguing that it’s okay to kill or maim anyone who rides a bicycle on a road. There may be a Facebook group out there that suggests it would be fun for Americans to kill their own military personnel, but if so I’ve never heard of it.

  • LN

    Anyone that is member of this FB group should post this article:
    http://latimesblogs.latimes.com/lanow/2010/01/cyclist-sentenced.html?utm_source=feedburner&utm_medium=feed&utm_campaign=Feed%3A+lanowblog+(L.A.+Now)

    These jerks can post whatever they want on their stupid FB group, but if they actually engage in deliberately hitting cyclists with a car they can end up in jail for 5 years.

  • electric

    Strange how people push the first amendment laws. In Canada these types of obvious hate speech which incite violence are treated the same way as people going around spray painting swastikas on Jewish grave stones – seriously.

    At least we will get to see how low people can go. As if we needed another reminder.

    The funny part is these people are using their real names to engage in online hate speech, stupid is as stupid does. In a way this is good, we cyclists can now have a list of potential offenders for police to reference if there is an “accident”.

    I encourage these people to continue.

  • I know a cyclist who worked for Facebook. I’ll see if he can make anything happen.

  • BicyclesOnly

    Execellent point, electric. It is the personal injury lawyers and rposecutors, not the constitutional lawyers who need to take note of this group. The motorist-defendant in a personal injury case (or a vehicular criminal case) should if available for discovery always be questioned about membership in a Face Book group like this or other, similar affiliation. Watch them squirm and try to disavow the affiliation as these pictures are put up in front of a jury as evidence that their crash with a cyclist was “accidental.”

  • Looloo

    Look, I understand that bicyclists want to share the road. However, I live in a state where motorcycles can’t ride up the center of two lanes and get to the front of the line, but bicyclists do it almost ever time (I have seen ONE biker not do it, and I live in a bicycle heavy city)

    They won’t move over a bit to let you pass, they prevent you from taking a free right at an intersection because they ride up in the bike lane until they are AT the light, preventing the flow of any right turn traffic. They are rude ‘drivers’ and quite frankly, although I would never commit such acts of violence, I can see why people do. Like I said, out of the hundreds of bicyclists I have seen, ONE followed the rules of the road. ONE. That to me is not a ‘minority.’ Bicyclists in general (at least where I live) feel they are superior to the cars, and that the cars should be the ones to give to the cyclists. Guess what, in the law of tonnage, much like a pedestrian, while the law may be on your side, you should still defensively drive, and that means moving to the side when a line up of cars are behind you.

  • I expect nothing better from people who use such websites.

    Is anyone on FaceBook old enough to own a car anyway??

  • BicyclesOnly

    Looloo–

    The riding behavior you describe is 100% lawful and appropriate in New York City, where right on red is virtually never permitted. What city are you talking about?

    And if it wasn’t obvious, the second to last word in my post above should be “not,” as in “not accidental.”

  • Incitement to violence is a criminal violation and has distinct legal meanings. I doubt there is an American jurisdiction that would entertain the possibility that this is incitement or any other violation of criminal law. If you can prove that this site somehow cause an action which harmed you then you might have a chance in civil process.

    They are rude ‘drivers’ and quite frankly, although I would never commit such acts of violence, I can see why people do.

    If you “can see why” someone would cause physical harm to a biker then you may “see why” a worker who got fired would shoot his boss… a wife who got cheated on would kill her husband… Both of those have long-term consequences to the aggrieved party whereas a cyclist getting in a car drivers way lasts a few minutes at most. Clearly, none of these are acceptable behaviors but that you can “see why people do” these to bicyclists but would likely be aghast at my other two examples shows that there is a disconnect in how people think about violence while on the road and violence in the workplace or home.

  • “They are rude ‘drivers’ and quite frankly, although I would never commit such acts of violence, I can see why people do.”

    Really? If you can understand second-degree murder for being rude, your values meed some adjusting.

  • J. Mork

    Andy Trafford:

    I have about 100 Facebook contacts from my high school graduating class of 1988. Please find a different facile argument against “social networking” sites.

  • i once tried to post a headline on facebook about the healthcare debate, but no matter what, it wouldn’t let me. there were no cuss words. it was doing some kind of automated keyword regex search and only after i changed certain words and neutered the thing to the point of irrelevance would it let me post it.

    yet it fully allows groups like this.

  • Hitler v Facebook Cyclist Hate Page: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6ki5eVPvHRk

  • Renato

    Facebook tire esses caras da rede. Por favor, esses caras são criminosos.

  • If you can understand second-degree murder for being rude, your values meed some adjusting.

  • ColGadarby

    Well I can tell you – if someone opens a door to deliberatley knock me off my bike – I’ll pull them out of their car and give them the kicking of their miserable life along with anybody else in the car – women and children included. They want play nasty – I can be much nastier.

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