By Nick Eustis
Pittsburgh Current Correspondent
Sue Kerr is a person very aware of the power of the internet as a tool for social justice.
Kerr is the founder of PGH Lesbian Correspondents, a nationall award-winning blog centered on LGBTQ issues in Western Pennsylvania. Since beginning in 2005, it has grown into the longest-running LGBTQ-focused blog in Pennsylvania, and she has become notorious for her no-holds-barred writing style. Her distinct voice has also found its way to websites and publications like Medium and Pittsburgh Current.
She has written extensively on a variety of issues she believes do not receive adequate coverage by mainstream media–from the murder rates of trans women of color, to the corporatization of Pride celebrations, as well as heavily covering local and national politics as it relates to the LGBTQ community. PGH Lesbian Correspondents was recently honored with the award for Outstanding Blog at the 30th GLAAD Annual Media Awards.
A social worker by trade, Kerr also utilizes platforms like Facebook to direct people to helpful resources, including mental health centers, homelessness relief, and animal welfare organizations.
All of this work, however, came to a halt on October 23, when she received a 24-hour suspension on her personal Facebook account. She was not notified of the suspension, nor given any explanation as to why. At first, she shrugged it off, thinking it was the result of someone angry with her posts about President Trump’s visit to Pittsburgh that day.
“I just sort of laughed it off in a way, because it was a 24-hour ban,” said Kerr.
When she received another 24-hour suspension on October 25, however, Kerr knew something was not right.
“This time I knew something was up because I was kicked off of Facebook and told I had to reset my password,” said Kerr.
Again, Kerr received no correspondence from Facebook as to what community standard she had violated, and she started to become frustrated, as Facebook is an essential tool of her trade.
“Facebook is my biggest social media outlet,” said Kerr. “It’s the biggest source of referrals to my blog. It’s the biggest form of engagement I have with the LGBTQ community nationally. I use it heavily both professionally and personally.”
She regained access to her account on October 26, only to have that access revoked for a third time later that day. This time, however, she was notified that she was suspended because some of her posts had been reported as spam, including a post about how to donate to Toys for Tots. All of the reported posts were later approved after review by Facebook.
After being allowed back on Facebook again on October 27, all seemed well until October 30, when Kerr was suspended for the fourth time in just seven days. While she is currently not suspended as of writing this, she has been troubled by the lack of feedback she received from Facebook. She is confident her posted content did not violate any community standards and was simply more intense than usual due to the President’s visit and the anniversary of the Tree of Life synagogue shooting.
“It was a little heavier than I usually am on that page, but my Facebook pages for my blog are more aggressive, I guess you could say,” said Kerr.
Kerr was further perturbed by the lack of recourse she had. She found there was little she could do to appeal the suspensions, or even learn what triggered them in order to avoid another.
“There’s nothing you can do, there’s no one you can call, there’s no way to appeal most of the time,” Kerr said.
This has had an immediate impact on Kerr’s livelihood. 70 percent of referrals to PGH Lesbian Correspondents come through Facebook. In a post written on the blog, Kerr said that these 24-hour suspensions had already negatively impacted page views, which in turn impacts her income.
Being suspended had an emotional impact on Kerr as well. She was locked out of her profile on the Tree of Life shooting anniversary, and she consequently felt isolated.
“I feel like I’m watching Facebook through a window and can’t be part of the dynamic at all,” Kerr wrote on her blog. “I can’t offer comfort, I can’t be present for my friends in their daily moments.”
Her suspensions also happened just two weeks before today’s general election, a time Kerr is usually very active on social media, discussing the issues and candidates she feels strongly about.
“I’m worried that I’m going to be silenced before the election because I’m really concerned about these two referendums [on the ballot],” said Kerr. “One in particular…Marsy’s Law, because that has such intense, powerful ramifications.”
Facebook was unable to comment on Kerr’s suspensions before publication. The Facebook Help Desk, which provides answers to common questions about the site, does say that “the number of times something is reported doesn’t determine whether or not it’s removed from Facebook,” and that reported content is not removed automatically.
Kerr’s suspensions come at a time when Facebook is under more public scrutiny than ever, and their hate speech policy has recently been criticized for disproportionately censoring marginalized communities. Kerr believes that her situation, in addition to this larger trend, is evidence that Facebook needs a larger team of people reviewing reported content.
“They need more real eyes on the content, the algorithms can only do so much,” said Kerr.
In spite of all this, Kerr is determined to keep on doing what she’s been doing for the past 14 years and is grateful she has a network of loyal friends and family to lean on, a fact she does not take lightly.
“I think I had other resources…I was able to reach out to people to ask for help,” said Kerr. “Not everybody has that. This is affecting a lot of other people, and I don’t know that, in Pittsburgh, we’re talking about that enough.”