Facebook Filter Icons Pose Access Barrier And Make Corporate Statements

Note from Nora: One of my friends generously wrote this as a guest post for me to take some of the stress off my plate. Thank you, E.! This is a post I’ve needed to write for awhile after posting a rant on my personal wall, but hadn’t had the spoons to do so. Much love and props for E! 🙂

As the lead organizer of Disability Right Now blog, recently featured in this list of sixty top autism and disability blogs, it feels important for me to make a statement about an access barrier on Facebook many may not be aware of.  Though not diagnosed with low vision, I have eye conditions which play a role in how I use the Internet.  Lately when a political happening is taking place, Facebook has taken to encouraging the use of a filter over people’s icons, and these filters pose an access barrier to many people with vision problems as well as people who experience migraines or other types of headaches. When the rainbow flag filter was prevalent (often touted by fair weather allies who were perfectly willing to say transphobic or anti-gay things even with their rainbow flag flying), I had a puke-inducing headache for two weeks straight before I took steps to start circulating a PSA about what the filter type icons do to headache-prone and visually impaired folx.

In some cases (including mine), depth perception plays a role in the headaches. The filter tricks us into working harder to see what is underneath in order to see who the people are.  You can say something like, “Well, just look at the name and not the picture,” but if someone is used to relying on both, they may not be able to stop relying on both just because Facebook is making a corporate statement this week.  People have disability-related coping mechanisms for a reason and may not be able to turn those off.

In the disability community, many people are housebound, with the Internet being a primary mode of interacting with the outside world. Some disabled people may not see people in person regularly, or may be unable to leave their houses without help.  Some are bedbound. And while the Internet is big, Facebook has shrunken it considerably, with a great deal of activity happening on the site, especially since it became a place where people of all ages can be found.

Asking people to simply change their Internet habits may as well be the same as telling some people, “Log off and don’t talk to people, we didn’t want you here anyway.”  For some, logging off of Facebook and/or the Internet is a very isolating experience which can alter mood, anxiety level, and physical health for that day.

Even if the Facebook filter icons do not give one headaches, they do make it almost impossible to tell people apart whether you’re visually impaired or not, unless you are someone who ignores icons one hundred percent of the time.  This can ultimately confuse many people, not just disabled people.  And it happens every single time Facebook introduces a filter. Not just with this French flag filter.

So it’s an icon, and it’s on Facebook, and it’s not accessible but what is this stuff about corporate statements?  Well, top down decisions made by Facebook, such as creating a safety check, or instituting a new filter, represent the company.  If you are using a Facebook-created filter, you are saying, “I co-sign Facebook’s decision to prioritize this political issue.”

Solidarity with deceased Parisians is one thing, but remember that the Facebook filter icons have corporate backing.  They represent a large slice of the corporate US. Not just a sentiment in the country, but the corporate US..  They are also being used to drum up xenophobic, racist sentiments–namely the idea that terrorism against white people matters more than terrorism against Muslims, Arabs, and other brown and black people.  If you want to cosign all of that, that is your right, but it’s important to be aware to what you are signing onto and representing, especially to people who have a stormy relationship with the French due to current or past colonialism.

And Facebook is a US company, but it is not just used by US citizens.  Facebook is used all over the world.  When you fly a flag on Facebook, the people who are under that flag can see that. Yes, that means the people of Paris see solidarity, but it also means that BIPOC (Black, Indiginous, and People of Color) people who are on land currently or previously occupied by France also see that.  The use of the French flag is showing solidarity with white people and lack of solidarity with occupied or previously-occupied people of color.

Disability Right Now blog has been and always will be in solidarity with people of color, and in solidarity with disabled people for whom Facebook remains not just a fun distraction or even just a tool but also a lifeline.  I was asked by A Heart Made Full Metal to guest blog here and to discuss the accessibility and other political ramifications of the French flag filter.  Remember–this isn’t even just about French flags, but about what statements we want to cosign, and whether we want to endorse Facebook implementing yet more inaccessible technology.  Access concerns will come about every time Facebook introduces a new filter.  Do your disabled friends and colleagues a solid, and try not to use them.

Image Description:

7 bombers in wing formation with fire around them, below that two pictures of civillians with the logo MT over it, and below that, the French flag: with the text “(Panel 1): France illegally bombs Syria in retaliation for an attack on them by European nationals. (Panel 2) Injuring and killing scores of civilians, (panel 3, over the French flag): “And people still be like.”)

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