Native American Groups Ask Twitter, Facebook, and Google to Remove Washington NFL Accounts

Your News Companion by Ben Mathis-Lilley
Aug. 7 2014 1:56 PM

Native American Groups Ask Twitter, Facebook, and Google to Remove Washington NFL Accounts

Native American groups have reached out to Mark Zuckerberg to remove the offensive team name from Facebook.

Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

Two Native American organizations have written letters to Facebook, Twitter, and Google asking the tech firms to remove accounts belonging to Washington’s NFL team, arguing that the team’s nickname is abusive hate speech. Representatives from the Oneida Indian Nation and National Congress of American Indians sent the letters on Tuesday requesting that the verified Twitter, Facebook, and Google Plus accounts be removed.

The 900-member Oneida tribe has become one of the principal advocates of a name change, while the National Congress of American Indians calls itself the “oldest, largest, and most representative” Native American group in the country. The letters, which have slight variations to account for the terms of service and community guidelines of each platform, are addressed individually to Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg, Twitter CEO Dick Costello (sic), and Google CEO and co-founder Larry Page. Each letter includes the case that the team name is “a derogatory racial insult targeting Native Americans”:

Most Native Americans today recognize this term as the epithet screamed at their ancestors as they were dragged at gunpoint off their sacred homelands. Consequently, a recent poll by the Center for Indigenous Peoples Studies at California State University found more than two-thirds of Native Americans say the Washington team's name “is a racial or racist word and symbol.”

(Here’s a link to that survey by the Center for Indigenous Peoples Studies.)

The two Native American groups wrote in their letter to Facebook that they believed the site’s “community standards” forbade the use of the name because of bans on “hate speech” and “bullying or harassment.” In its policies, the company defines hate speech as attacking “others based on their race, ethnicity, national origin, religion, sex, gender, sexual orientation, disability or medical condition.”

Facebook was the only one of the three companies that would comment on the record. (Though Slate does not print the team’s offensive nickname, we will make an exception here to quote the company accurately.) “The Washington Redskins page doesn’t violate our community standards,” said a company spokesman. He added, though, that the company hadn’t yet had the opportunity to review the letter.

Twitter, which has a reputation among the big tech companies for erring on the side of free speech even in the case of hate speech or abuse, told me that the company does not comment on individual accounts for privacy and security reasons. Twitter prohibits “targeted abuse or harassment.”

Google’s representatives also declined to comment on the record, but did indicate that the team’s account would not be canceled. The Google Plus user conduct policy bans hate speech if it “promotes or condones violence against individuals or groups based on race or ethnic origin, religion, disability, gender, age, nationality, veteran status, or sexual orientation/gender identity, or whose primary purpose is inciting hatred on the basis of these core characteristics.”

In other Washington NFL team protest news, the University of Minnesota is trying to keep the Washington team’s name from being used in promotional and gameday materials when it visits the Minnesota Vikings for a regular season game to be played at the school in November. And in an interview with ESPN, team owner Daniel Snyder explained that the nickname is “a positive. Taken out of context—you can take things out of context all over the place—but in this particular case, it is what it is. It's very obvious.”

Jeremy Stahl is a Slate senior editor. You can follow him on Twitter.



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