Oakland Co. sheriff calls out Facebook, Amazon

Mark Hicks
The Detroit News

After calling on Amazon and Facebook to stop promoting “dangerous anti-police rhetoric,” Oakland County Sheriff Michael Bouchard scored a partial victory Monday when Amazon appeared to have put an end to T-shirt sales that promoted an anti-police message.

But he’s peeved that his Facebook posts calling on other like-minded citizens to weigh in on whether such sales are appropriate appeared to have been removed the same day.

Bouchard is vice president – government affairs for the Major County Sheriffs’ Association, which issued a statement Monday claiming Facebook allows pages and groups saying “(expletive) the police” and featuring “obscene caricatures depicting the assassination of law enforcement officials." Bouchard and the association also said Amazon was selling T-shirts with the same message as well as other merchandise they call anti-police.

Bouchard sought to curb the online marketing and messages amid “an uptick in targeted killings and anti-police rhetoric.”

“Social media and online retail stores must stand up and stop promoting the dangerous anti-police rhetoric,” the association statement read. “In the past nine months, 86 officers have died in the line of duty. Eighty six families will never see their husband, wife, sister, brother, mother, or father again. MCSA calls upon Facebook and Amazon to support the men and women who risk their lives every day for the safety of their communities.”

Bouchard said an online user alerted him to the Amazon T-shirt sale. Disturbed by what seemed like a “commercial exploitation” of an incendiary notion directed at his uniformed colleagues, he posted a link on two personal Facebook pages seeking input from others.

But within hours, he said, “I got an email from someone … saying that post is gone.” Bouchard confirmed the scrubbing on his pages and also received many similar Facebook messages from other users, he said. “This went out to thousands of people and universally all of them say: ‘They took (the posts) off mine.’ It was like a systemic purge.”

Meanwhile, the sheriff also learned Monday that the T-shirt sale post had vanished from Amazon’s website.

Reached Monday night, an Amazon representative confirmed the item was not listed for sale but said the company wouldn’t comment further. Its website does not include T-shirts among items that users need approval to sell.

“To Amazon’s credit they appear to be removing them, but to Facebook’s great discredit, they don’t even allow us to draw attention to it,” Bouchard said. “They created a huge act of subjective censorship.”

In response, a Facebook representative released a statement Monday night: “Not all disagreeable or disturbing content violates our Community Standards. We aim to find the right balance between giving people a place to express themselves and promoting a welcoming and safe environment for our diverse community. Threats made against police officers violate our standards, and are removed if they are reported to us.”

The move was mystifying, Bouchard said, since some Facebook pages with “(expletive) the police” remain when his post had only been calling out what he and others believe is inappropriate: “Making a profit off a bloody T-shirt with” that message.

The sheriff also insists that he was not seeking to curb anyone’s right to free speech, which authorities are supposed to protect. But he also pointed out that the cyber issues came Monday, when another law enforcement officer, a Kentucky state trooper, was fatally shot.

At a time when tensions between law enforcement and the public linger nationwide, Bouchard said, hateful messages “can have an effect on people anywhere, anytime it becomes socially acceptable to spout hate and to advocate violence against any group.”