There has long been fierce disagreement between gay rights activists and Christians over who has the right to express themselves in various ways and places. Last month, Facebook included a “gay pride” button as a sub-menu to its “like” button as a way for people to show their support for the month-long event.
Christian Facebook users expressed their discontent with the move, and asked for a crucifix symbol to be added to the same sub-menu. This did not happen, and the subject became somewhat of a controversy.
One consequence that Facebook did not foresee was conservatives and members of the “alt-right” using the gay pride emoji as a pejorative- much in the same way that immature youths might say “that’s so gay” to express a negative opinion or insult.
To be fair, Facebook’s use of the emoji does not rise to the level of discrimination against Christians- at least, not until they fail to include Christian emojis during holidays going forward. Christian activists who wish to have a greater impact will wait until Christmas, or other religious holiday, and protest.
It is worth noting, however, that before the gay pride emoji, Facebook has done little to participate in the holidays of non-left-leaning causes and groups and it can be expected that they will fail to show reverence for Christianity in the same way.
Predictably, however, the debate took a less than civil turn when a pastor who runs a Christian Facebook page with over 200,000 followers received a slew of revolting responses to his opposition to the gay pride emoji. Pastor Rich Penkoski, creator and moderator on the Warriors for Christ Facebook page received death threats, harassment, and had human feces sent to him in the mail as a response to his opposition to the emoji.
Penkoski sent a clear message to the followers of Warriors for Christ that the gay emoji would not be tolerated on his Christian page.
This is where the argument becomes interesting because, on one hand, free speech advocates argue that Facebook does not have the right to censor speech, while others say that as a private company, Facebook does have the right to censor speech. This is a cutting edge legal issue, as normal free speech law would say that Facebook does not have a duty to permit speech that it does not want to permit. Of course, legality and morality are not always on the same page.
Where the subject of free speech on social media becomes difficult is where we begin to recognize that social media in the information age has become a necessary method of sharing information. According to this argument, online speech would have the same protection that journalists have enjoyed under the First Amendment.
Facebook has run afoul of the latter free speech argument by censoring conservative news stories on its site. If this precedent matters to this gay emoji issue, it would seem to indicate that Pastor Rich Penkoski has a right to ban people using the gay emoji on his page.
So the answer to whether people can post whatever they want on any given section of Facebook, or the Internet at large, is far from settled. But it is clear that Facebook can make no cogent argument against the stance that Pastor Penkoski took on his own personal group page. This is especially so, considering that he made it clear from the outset that pro-gay messages would not be welcome on Warriors for Christ.
After all, Facebook groups have long had the right to actively censor and control the content shared in individual group pages. Even the most innocuous pages, such as knitting groups, for example, are known to ban members for posting non-knitting related material.
However, it can finally be said that the debate went totally off the rails when left-wing activists came onto Penkoski’s page en-mass solely to harass him and his like-minded followers. They took the debate far beyond the pale with threats of violence so frequent that Penkoski had to have his mail directed to the local police department.
Christians must stand strong in the face of online adversity. If Facebook refuses to allow a cross on its ‘like’ sub-menu during the next Christian holiday, its agenda will be painfully clear for all to see.
~ 1776 Christian