How Jesus got me banned on Facebook

Donald Trump and I now have something in common: We both ran afoul of Facebook content guidelines Thursday.

In the President’s case, it was because of ads designed and placed by his reelection campaign. The paid posts asked Facebook users to sign a petition condemning “far left groups,” particularly antifa, the do-it-yourself anti-fascist movement that the Trump administration has sought to blame for the violent and destructive aspects of the wave of Black Lives Matter protests.

The red flag for Facebook’s gatekeepers was a red triangle that appeared in ads. As anybody who has read any World War II history — or seen Schindler’s List or Holocaust or even Inglourious Basterds — would likely know, an inverted red triangle was a symbol that the Nazis forced accused Communists, Social Democrats, Freemasons and other opposition party members to wear on their clothing. Jews were made to wear a yellow triangle-red triangle combo meant to resemble a Star of David.

Facebook deemed the Nazi inference, whether intentional or merely grounded in an ignorance of history, offensive and banned the ads.

My offense was an ad that Facebook said included content that was “shocking, sensational, or excessively violent.”

To which I say, “Well, yeah.”

I can also explain.

Facebook practically every day encourages me to “boost” a post — that is, pay them a fee to use its database to place my info, my ad, on the daily feeds of Facebook users who aren’t my “friends.” I decided to give it a try. I was hoping to reignite interest in my memoir, Life After Deaf: My Misadventures in Hearing Loss and Recovery, which was published late last year and was selling pretty well until the COVID-19 “lock down” put serious crimp in my ability to do readings at book stores, libraries and what have you.

For my boosted post, I chose a prose-poem that’s included in the book. I composed it at a point in my hearing-loss “journey” when I was at a low ebb, desperate for sensory stimulation to make up for the loss of music in my life. I was inspired by a beautiful painting by a 14th century Florentine artist named Paolo Schiavo. It’s on permanent exhibit along with other religious paintings at the Georgia Museum of Art on the University of Georgia campus in Athens.

It’s not “shocking, sensational, or excessively violent.” It’s all three. It depicts what in its time amounted to a lynching, a horrible thing — the crucifixion of Jesus.

It’s also a tableau that has been reproduced by hundreds of artists over hundreds of years. Its central image, Jesus nailed to a cross, can be seen in some rendering or another in Christian sanctuaries from Rome to rural Mississippi.

I am guessing that my use of Schiavo’s vivid portrait freaked out some sort of image-recognition software Facebook uses, not a human judge. I can’t say for sure. While Facebook offers a button to click on to appeal decisions like these, it’s difficult to reach an actual person to whom one can make a counter argument.

I have indeed appealed. I will let you know what I hear back.

In the meantime, this is the artwork. Below it is the poem.

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Image for post

Listening to Art

I came to you because I’d gone deaf
Not that I expected any healing, mind you
I don’t believe in miracles
Not big ones anyway
I didn’t even know you were present
In these gleaming pine corridors
Hobnobbing with saints who say they knew you
No, I came because I made myself a New Year’s resolution:
“Celebrate the senses you have left, son. Indulge.
Nuzzle that glorious velvet, trace an old hickory’s furrowed bough.
Savor that wild strawberry, that kiss of mint.
Smell the roses and the coffee, of course. And the sour mash ferment
Of sweet gum leaves and carrot shavings making compost cider.
Watch the sunrise blossom, the waxwings dining by the open window.
Look at art. Yes! And really look this time.”
And so it was that I came to this ivory hall, seeking a feast for my eyes
Not you, just the $3 all-you-can-eat.
But there you were, in that Florentine’s ferocious miniature,
A king embracing eternity between thieves, dying for their sins, our sins
Dying for your decency, for your inability to betray your loving heart.
What a sensory magnificence.
Schiavo’s palette burned my eyes, his reds dark like your last cup of wine, like blood I have given
I could feel the rough timber beneath your pale limbs
I inhaled sorrow, tasted triumph.
And I could hear
The Romans grousing, debating your paternity
The sobs that had welled inside your mother for 30 years
Magdalene’s words of comfort
There, there. Sssssssh.
Calvary was alive, aural, a cacophony.
I could hear it.
For a moment I could hear.

Written by

Mississippi native, award-winning veteran of The Orlando Sentinel, the Minneapolis Star Tribune and Newsday, stand-up storyteller, lives in Athens, Ga.

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