Facebook Advice: Don't Mistake Anti-Racist Satire for Patriotism

George Washington may look good holding the Liberty Bell, but…
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Here is a tale of two right-wing groups in America—one sincere, and one satirical—and what happened when Facebook brought them together.

The first is named the National Liberty Federation. Based in West Palm Beach, Florida, it calls itself part of the Tea Party. Its website thunders that it’s “dedicated to promoting awareness regarding our inalienable rights,” then lists six staff members devoted to the cause. Back in September, the New York Times accused it of profiting from a federal government shutdown.  

Its Facebook page—facebook.com/libertyheadquarters—posts angry, often anti-Muslim or racist images, and boasts some 95,000 fans.

The second is called Columbia. Built in the 1890s as a World’s Fair-style exhibition, Columbia floats in the sky, powered by blimps and “quantum levitation.” While it was meant to travel from continent to continent and showcase the new utopia that is the United States, xenophobes and white supremacists eventually overtook Columbia, seceding and governing it as violent ultra-nationalistic theocracy.

Columbia, of course, doesn’t exist. It’s the setting of Bioshock Infinite, a first-person shooter game released in March. Bioshock’s designers mock xenophobia and jingoism with massive, over-the-top murals. In one satirical mural (above), for instance, an angel flies above the figure of George Washington as he clasps the Liberty Bell, golden sun streaming behind his body. At his feet, the caricatures of every imaginable non-White ethnicity claw and reach up, as if for salvation. 

Medallions with a cross and a dove hang in the sky. For faith, reads one. For purity, reads the other. 

The image (which is above) might seem more than a little heavy-handed in its intended ludicrousness. But that didn’t keep the National Liberty Federation from posting it to its Facebook page, free of commentary, on Saturday.

Such is what happens, it seems, when satire floats around free of context on the image-adoring social web. Satire of racism becomes plain old racism. One person’s ludicrous proposal might seem, to another, modest.

But this happens too, on the web: Facebook commenters on the image—commenters, it seems, not usually friendly to the Federation’s aims—quickly discovered the error. Some posted other over-the-top, overtly racist quotes from the game in jest.

Seriously, that quote is also from the video game you took this picture from,” one person wrote. “A game that points out how stupid racism is.

He added: “You really should check your sources before posting.” 

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Robinson Meyer is an associate editor at The Atlantic, where he covers technology.

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