I got suspended from Facebook for a region-specific, non-offensive expression

Bozhidar Bozhanov
3 min readSep 30, 2020

Yes, a 1-day suspension is nothing serious, but it’s an indication of the holes in the community guidelines and the complexity of public discourse.

The phrase that you see (which means “Obama was lynching the negroes”) is part of an argument regarding Trump and Obama, and I tried to satirize the opposite side by quoting an ages-old soviet joke/catchphrase about how the Soviet Union justified its human rights abuses by pointing out that in America “they are lynching the negroes”. The whole story has a dedicated Wikipedia page because it is great depiction of the “tu quoque” logical fallacy.

I’m not from Russia or an ex-Soviet republic, but close to that — Bulgaria, which was part of the eastern block. In my country the catchphrase has exactly the same meaning — exposing that an argument is a tu quoque logical fallacy and that someone else’s possible wrongdoing cannot justify one’s own wrongdoing.

Okay, it’s an old joke, but that’s no excuse for using the word “negro”, which is derogatory nowadays and that’s the reason for getting suspended? Well, not in my language. In fact, in my language the word “black” (черен) is the derogatory one (and since we are not in the US, “African-American” does not come naturally, because the black people we see are not predominantly African-American). The word “негър” (negro) lacks the negative connotation that it has in American English. (The asterisk I put is to prevent simple automated recognition of the word, not because I think it’s racist)

So, while in the US “Obama was lynching the negroes” would certainly be breaking the community standards — the expression lacks the universal recognition as a rhetorical device, and the word negro has a derogatory meaning, neither of these is true in my country and its discourse.

That’s what sociolinguistics studies — the effect of society on language, and the difference between different societies and the application of language norms. Something that’s derogatory in one society is not in another one. Something that’s a universally understood rhetorical device in one society doesn’t make sense in another.

The americentrism that we live in online has multiple negative effects, and the view on discourse from an American point of view is one of them. The effect is that I can’t use a non-derogatory, non-racist, locally understood expression because the community guidelines are specific to American discourse.

It’s not a huge problem at the moment, and probably this is an edge case, but I’d recommend authors of community standards to incorporate variations of the local context in the rules.



Bozhidar Bozhanov

Software engineering. Linguistics, algorithmic music composition. Founder at LogSentinel.com