Rant: Bunz Enables White Supremacism

The only consolation in all this is my seeming ability to produce content, perspectives and opinions which elicit strong and negative emotional responses from office-working yuppie Liberals and overt neo-Nazis alike.

As an anti-racist journalist and activist based in Toronto, Ontario I’ve become known, to the point of local infamy, for my work in exposing and opposing both overt and covert hate, and political extremism from Canada’s far-right.

I have been assaulted, doxxed, harassed, fired from my job, had people visit my home, had people threaten my former office, had people contact my current and former employers and have been generally subjected to the worst forms of intimidation and bullying by some of Canada’s most dangerous people. The police of course, have predictably done nothing, not that I expected them to.

I’ve paid a pretty steep price and because of the unique nature of anti-racist work as a political space, have encountered my fair share of lateral violence from my own side as well– often from people, particularly liberals and centrists, who do little or nothing to further anti-racist causes themselves.

Through this all, I have been sustained by a caring community of fellow activists and friends, most of whom are on social media. Social media is for many of us who live on the edge of movement-induced PTSD, a place where we can seek comfort, solace and community. The most frequently used platform for these purposes is Facebook.

I have also benefitted from finding work in closed Facebook groups. Closed groups have allowed me to seek employment without publishing my interest or intent in a place where my harassers might see it. I can connect directly with individuals to whom I can personally explain my situation, level of personal exposure, financial precarity and make an appeal for understanding regarding my specific need for confidential or politically insulated employment. It is not untrue to say that the campaigns of harassment I have faced have precluded me from any public-facing or publicly listed corporate work.

In late December 2018, I was banned from a corporation’s Facebook group, the “Bunz Trading Zone” and its associated “Employment+Entrepreneurial” zone. These are subsidiary groups using the name and brand of Bunz Inc. a cryptocurrency corporation which runs a smart-contract interface to facilitate community bartering.

I was banned from the Bunz groups after I raised a polite, well worded (and popularly supported) concern about a situation where several ‘well-intentioned’ white people were mobbing someone whose profile indicated they were a Latinx Mexican, and accusing that person of racism and cultural appropriation. I have written a full and lengthy description of this situation in another article.

Despite my relevant experience as both a community activist and former employee of a free-expression organization, and the delicate nuance in the perspective I expressed– I was summarily banned from the Bunz Trading Zone. This happened despite my immediate and unquestioning compliance with a directive from a moderator to cease posting on the subject. It is my belief that my removal likely occurred as a result of a very personal conflict involving another community activist who was acting as a Bunz community moderator in 2016.

In addition to my removal from the Trading group which while heavy handed, wasn’t something I planned to contest, I was also summarily banned from the unrelated Employment+Entrepreneurial zone, which I’d been 100% reliant on to find work in Toronto. I had several active discussions ongoing with prospective employers in that group and my removal from it sent my personal finances into shambles and has pushed me to the brink of both starvation and homelessness.

The individual who banned me from the Bunz groups is Briony Smith, self-described “fashion journalist”, former editor for Flare magazine and head-moderator of the Bunz Trading Zone.

The individual who banned me from the Bunz groups is Briony Smith, self-described “fashion journalist”, former editor for Flare magazine and head-moderator of the Bunz Trading Zone.

 

I appealed directly to Smith in a mature, and polite manner, asking her to reconsider the moderation decision. I waited a full month and despite multiple polite entreaties and insistence that substantial harm had been done to my life and livelihood– I received no response.

Smith incidentally has previously objected to the use of the word “sociopath” in Bunz groups, claiming that Sociopaths are a protected class, an oppressed group and misunderstood by broader society, being themselves the target of unjust discrimination. Smith has also been the subject of a CBC article where she claims she is “powered by trolls”.

It is obvious based on the pattern of interaction or disengaged interaction, that Smith struggled with empathy or failed to exhibit it when I tried to politely describe the tangible harm that a Bunz ban had on my ability to survive in Toronto.

In a bid to get some accountability on this matter, I then wrote a coherent and succinct public post on my own Facebook wall, encouraging my friends, followers and community members to send an e-mail to Smith, the moderator who made the bad decision. I listed a public-facing e-mail for Smith which I obtained on the Bunz official facebook page.

I also sent a copy of this writeup to Bunz staff directly to inform them of moderation issues in their community.

Smith appears to have used her power in the community and rallied her friends to fraudulently report my Facebook post, complaining about the ban.  My post was taken down and I received a 24 hour ban from Facebook, which I could not appeal.

This was the first ban I’d ever received on the Facebook platform in almost 12 years of use.

 

Smith’s friends were mass-reporting (brigading) my post as ‘harassment’ and those friends sent many messages and commented cruelly and mockingly on several related posts. They also cynically leveraged her femininity, claiming I had ‘doxxed a vulnerable woman’ by encouraging people to send messages challenging the moderation decision to a publicly listed e-mail she was using for the purposes of corporate communications.

I moved my post to the blogging platform Medium.com. Within 24 hours, following a similar campaign by Smith’s friends, Medium staff emailed me directly telling me that they were removing my post and that I could only access my account (where I had written almost a dozen articles about hate groups) if I removed any mention of Smith, including her name, from my post. I have subsequently chosen to abandon Medium.com and encourage anyone else who cares about free expression, press freedom and personal accountability for lateral violence, to do the same.

I moved my post to a more censorship-resistant platform, where it is still available. I shared a link to that post on Facebook. A few hours later, I received a 3-day ban from Facebook for sharing “hate speech”. Again, the link to my blog post had been ‘brigaded’ by Smith’s friends who filed fraudulent reports, accusing me, an anti-racist activist and journalist, of “hate speech”. This is transparently defamatory and was obviously done with malicious intent. Despite this, the Bunz corporation offered me no response. Strangely, while Facebook banned this content as ‘hate speech’ it was willing to accept money to promote the same post on another page.

I appealed that ban and after two days, Facebook reversed the ban and apologized.

Facebook reversed the fraudulent “hate speech” ban that they’d enacted on behalf of Briony Smith and Bunz and actually apologized.

A few days later a Bunz representative e-mailed me to say the company was meeting on these issues and would likely be reviewing or changing its moderation policies. A month later, I have heard nothing new on this and for all intents and purposes the company appears to have opted to ignore my concerns.

In the last week of February 2019, I published another unrelated article on my blog. It was a review of a decade old anti-Nazi video game. One of the comments I received was from somebody pretending to be a literal Nazi, using the screen-name ‘Adolf Hitler Jones’. Jones launched into an incoherent, threatening and vitriolic racist screed about my article. I’ve also received dozens of angry comments from supporters of Bunz. It’s worthy of note that the only negative comments my blog has received have been from literal white supremacists and defenders of the Bunz community.

I took a screenshot of that post and posted it on Facebook along with commentary, showing a clear separation between myself and the hate-mail I had received. It is worthy of note that I double-checked Facebook’s community standards in advance of sharing this content and discovered that I am permitted to share third-party hate speech for the purposes of “raising awareness or educating others.”

A few days after sharing this, I received a third ban from Facebook, again for three days, for sharing “hate speech”. My appeal of this ban was summarily rejected. It is also worthy of note that last week, Facebook banned the page of “Yellow Vests Canada Exposed” an independent anti-racist journalism project devoted to exposing white supremacism and threats originating from Canada’s far-right. I had also recently posted on this subject and I believe I was again targeted for malicious reports as a form of reprisal for these valid critiques.

It is my reasonable belief, and a fair statement of fact that the bullying actions of the Bunz Trading Zone and Employment Zone moderator have subjected my social media accounts and my work to a cascade of actions under Facebook’s community standards. This was facilitated by a demonstrable and verifiable abuse of Facebook’s automated content-moderation algorithm when Briony Smith’s friends brigaded my postings as ‘Hate speech’.

This campaign of false and malicious abuse of Facebook’s content reporting system have now had a demonstrable and permanent negative impact on my account and my ability to do anti-racist journalism work, which is one of my few remaining sources of income. By maliciously abusing this system to make my account a target for account enforcement actions, Bunz and their moderator have made it harder, even impossible, to continue doing this work, thereby enabling white supremacism.

Each subsequent action has changed my overall standing on Facebook, and I am now obviously being treated as a “repeat offender” on the platform, in the same manner that an alt-right troll would be. This is leading to account actions over content which I have demonstrably earned the right to share and discuss with authority, as an activist and journalist who writes on issues of racism and hate in Canadian society, and which is shared in compliance with Facebook’s terms of service.

Not only have my charter-protected speech rights, (including my right to freedom of the press) been abrogated multiple times by two corporations (Bunz and Facebook), it appears that I am being escalated on a social-media blacklist as a direct result of the bullying actions of Briony Smith and her friends. From my experience as a free-expression activist, I can attest that people are left with very little positive, constructive or peaceful recourse when they are repeatedly and maliciously silenced.

In a scathing TIME editorial Roger McNamee, a former mentor of Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg describes this trend broadly as “bad actors…” “exploiting Facebook’s architecture and business model to inflict harm on innocent people.” A recent article from The Verge entitled ‘The Trauma Floor’ reveals deep problems including employment and equity issues at play behind the scenes at the third-party corporations where Facebook outsources its content moderation queue. It is my belief that Bunz and Smith have knowingly abused these systematic issues to inflict harm in their community, in a move which has empowered racists.

It is my further, a reasonable belief and a true statement, based on the actions of Briony Smith and Bunz community members, including Bunz staff, that I have been substantively and effectively attacked and silenced.

Smith abused her authority in committing lateral violence as an unelected and unaccountable moderator of a public-private hybrid ‘city network’ (Bunz Trading Zone) in order to maliciously bar me from seeking employment in my community, in a place where jobs relevant and accessible to me are posted. Smith has also, through her actions, substantively empowered white supremacists to silence my work as an anti-racist journalist by abusing Facebook’s community standards to silence my justified criticism of both her and the Bunz corporation.

It is my conclusion then that so long as Bunz retains Smith as a moderator, that both they and Smith can be fairly and accurately described as enablers of white-supremacism, bad actors, malicious and incompetent custodians of the space they occupy in Toronto’s mutual-aid and alternative economics spaces, and wilful enemies of true anti-racist work. The actions they took, and which they have until now, defended, have lead directly to the silencing of my anti-racist work and my ongoing punishment for doing that same work.

As an aside, I was in the process of writing a paid article for a media outlet, which will need to remain on hold until I am able to access my account. The only consolation in all this is my seeming ability to produce content, perspectives and opinions which elicit strong and negative emotional responses from office-working yuppie Liberals and overt neo-nazis alike.

If you support an end to corporate censorship and believe that Bunz and Smith should be held accountable for empowering actual white supremacists, please send an email to brionycwsmith@gmail.com asking her to resign as moderator and to hello@bunz.com asking them to remove her from this position if she will not depart voluntarily.

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