In a move that surprises no one Facebook has now officially announced a ban against Zwarte Piet, also known as Black Pete. The traditional Dutch character has been under fire for years as activists have worked to scrub the tradition from The Netherlands. In a blog post this week Facebook says they will be banning all images and videos of blackface.
Would that preclude this story then? (We’ll see)
While this particular policy has been anticipated for a long time it comes when Facebook is increasingly under fire for censorship and dismal fact-checking practices. Facebook uses politically motivated, backed and liberal sourced media operations to power their fact-checking efforts.
The controversies of Black Pete have not really originated in The Netherlands. For nearly two hundred years they paraded the character openly on the streets during annual celebrations of St. Nicholas. There was nary a complaint.
But activists came from outside the country and soon the UN embedded itself into the country’s traditions to ban a character who was never racist in the least. But despite the history, despite the innocent play of a character covered in soot the Netherlands populace who have backed the tradition were labeled as racist without any kind defense whatsoever. Through slanted international media the country has more or less been shamed to give up a tradition that was never intended or designed to cause offense.
Facebook’s decision has already drawn criticism from some who see it as censorship, and it is sure to reignite what is already a heated—and at times violent—debate surrounding the tradition. Within hours of the decision the far right “Pro Zwarte Piet” Facebook page created an event where members plan to spam post all their pictures of the character and called on them to boycott the platform. According to NOS, the Dutch national broadcaster, in order for pictures of Black Pete to be removed, users must actively report them.
Anti-racist activists see the decision as a small victory, with the popular “Zwarte Piet is Racisme” page heralding the decision as “a happy day for the Netherlands.” But some activists have also questioned why a private corporation has taken the lead instead of the national government. While Prime Minister Mark Rutte—who himself has dressed up as the character—recently described the tradition as racist, he refused to go so far as to say that the tradition would be outright banned.