Update: As of Friday morning, The Free Black Women’s Library founder Ola Ronke tweeted that the organization’s Facebook and Instagram account access had been restored.
On Thursday morning, The Free Black Women’s Library founder Ola Ronke tweeted that the national group’s Facebook and Instagram accounts had been suspended for violating community standards possibly over sharing works by Zora Neale Hurston and Audre Lorde.
With the coronavirus COVID-19 pandemic raging around the world, Ola Ronke said her events had been canceled, so the social media pages now are the sole source of income for her as a single mother and provides a much-needed connection to supporters during this time of social distancing.
— The Free Black Women's Library (@TFBWL) April 2, 2020
Ola Ronke started a Change.org petition to fight the social media ban, emphasizing that she had been building on the organization’s online engagement for five years. The original goal was to gain 1,500 signatures, but by Thursday afternoon, the petition was asking for 2,500 signatures. By 5 p.m. PST, the petition had over 2,350 signatures. In the petition, Ola Ronke writes:
I have not violated any standards. I post about books and the lives of Black women, I never use hate speech or promote violence. I share Black Women’s poems, stories, history and culture.
The ban came after Ola Ronke said she shared a video of her reading “Sweat,” a short story by Zora Neale Hurston in the author’s latest book, Hitting a Straight Lick with a Crooked Stick, and “A Woman Speaks” by Audre Lorde in honor of April being National Poetry Month. Ola Ronke said she soon couldn’t log in to the social media pages and received an email about violating community standards that she called “very generic, vague and automated.”
Facebook Inc., which owns Instagram, writes that it prioritizes safety and privacy in its community standards: “Expression that threatens people has the potential to intimidate, exclude or silence others and isn’t allowed on Facebook.”
The Free Black Women’s Library is a pop-up book exchange that collects books written by black women and shares those books with the community through events such as poetry readings and book swaps. The organization is based in New York with chapters in Los Angeles, Atlanta, Houston, and Detroit. Since we’re based in LA, we have attended several events with The Free Black Women’s Library LA, which launched in April 2019.