Facebook is not required to provide the online equivalent of an endless Open Mic Night to Alex Jones, Louis Farrakhan or anyone else.
The idea is that a private business should have sole control of their content.
Newspapers have long championed free speech, even advocating that journalists have more rights to free speech protections than the general public.
Thus it is odd for newspapers to advocate for suppression of speech.
The challenge is always – who gets to decide what speech to suppress?
Do only powerful entities like corporate newspapers and social media corporations get to decide?
I was taught in high school and college that the proper response to speech we do not like is more speech – not shutting off those we oppose. Guess I am old fashioned but I believe that is still the proper response.
Do censorship and net neutrality go together?
Social media companies are private businesses and therefore, may control the content on their platform.
Social media companies promote net neutrality – arguing their content must be compulsorily carried by third party private business that deliver Internet data services.
Social media companies want it both ways – to be a private company that is free to censor while simultaneously forcing other businesses to carry their own speech. Under net neutrality, Comcast or AT&T must carry all of Facebook’s traffic without restriction.
That would be net neutrality for us, but not for you!
Is social media like a telephone company and not liable for content?
Social media companies say they are like a telephone company and not liable for user speech on their platform. This gives them a “safe harbor” against being liable for content posted by users. However, once they begin to edit that content, they act like a publisher, potentially liable for their content. Except that Federal law lets social media delete any content they choose.
Social media companies want it both ways: they want to be not liable for user content but simultaneously want to edit/censor content like a traditional publisher.
Offensive speech should be countered with more speech, not censorship
I am generally not familiar with those who were banned by Facebook other than what I have seen in news stories. I have seen a little of the conspiracy theorist Alex Jones output and I don’t like it. I am not supportive of the thoughts expressed by those with these bizarre views – but I support the view that their offensive speech should be countered with more speech, not censorship.
(Update: These individuals have extreme views that few support and are certainly poor examples to use in defending free speech. After I wrote this post, I did, however, find other examples of dissent on less inflammatory topics that were silenced by those in power.)
I am not defending their speech – but am questioning the appropriateness of corporations silencing them. Corporate publishers and broadcasters already censor speech frequently as the examples, below, illustrate. There is a slippery slope and we are quite a ways down that slope as made clear by these real world examples.
Zuckerberg accused by Facebook co-founder of censoring speech
“The most problematic aspect of Facebook’s power is Mark’s unilateral control over speech,” Hughes wrote. “There is no precedent for his ability to monitor, organize and even censor the conversations of two billion people.
Propaganda Impacts of Censorship by Corporations
In Spokane, Washington, the local newspaper publisher is a family dynasty dating to the 19th century. They publish the paper, own a TV station and used to own an AM radio station, and are the largest land owner in downtown Spokane, plus they own another 100,000 or so acres in the county and an adjoining county and prime real estate in Spokane Valley. They also own the mountain top antenna site used by other TV and radio stations (which may enable them to influence other broadcasters). The publisher has used their media properties to control the public dialogue (look up the River Park Square parking garage fiasco – more here.)
When the Northtown Mall was opened, the local paper refused to run ads for stores there because it would conflict with the paper’s ownership of downtown real estate and would impact retailers in downtown (supposedly the downtown lease agreements included a percent of revenue to the landlord/publisher). When public measures went up for a vote – measures that involved spending taxpayer’s money to enhance the downtown area or areas located near the publisher’s properties, you can guess how the paper spun the news. The full story of corruption is lengthy.
They could this because at one time, a single family controlled over 80% of the ad dollars in the Spokane market!
Regarding the RPS fiasco – “Spokesman-Review editorial writers continued to treat all dissenters as crackpots.” The editor called the Mayor a “civic terrorist” for his opposition to the garage.
Not surprisingly, in the lead up to and aftermath of the RPS fiasco: “According to an independent analysis commissioned by the Spokesman in 2007, it had allowed River Park Square developer Betsy Cowles to influence the editing of its stories, some of which hyped up the deal and downplayed its dangers.” [Betsy Cowles is part of the Cowles family that owns the media empire and real estate businesses.]
In other words: propaganda messaging, in part, by “lying by omission”: Everything the publisher says is true, but by omitting critical information, the overall conclusion is not true.
This is also known as “What You See Is All There Is”. Given factual – but censored – arguments, the reader or viewer is steered to the desired conclusion, unaware that other facts may present a different view. I have an example of WYSIATI in action here.
This example illustrates how a private business with large market share strongly influenced public policy through its power of censorship. None of this involved hate speech are advocating violence.
A shadow ban is one the person who is censored is led to believe their content is public. For example, you post a Twitter tweet and you can see it yourself (when logged in). But no one else can see it. Facebook does this, as do moderated newspaper comments
A factual comment I wrote, quoting directly from a U.S. government agency web site in regards to a public policy, was shadow banned by our local newspaper. I could see the comment when I was logged in, but when logged out, my comment was not there. Logged back in, and there it was. My comment had been shadow banned by The Oregonian newspaper.
My comment was not controversial, cited actual data, provided a citation to the U.S. government agency source, and an explanation of the methodology used. I asked The Oregonian for an explanation and they did not provide any.
I could only guess that The Oregonian was censoring facts that were inconsistent with their reporting. Not cool.
Yes, they are a private business and have a right to censor anything they want – but can I trust the Oregonian to deliver accurate news when I know they censor factual, reliably sourced information that contradicts their report? Answer: No, I cannot.
Compare the Oregonian’s actions to those described for Spokane, above. In both examples, corporate publishers controlled the public dialogue on public policy through enforcement of WYSIATI.
The Facebook group page originally associated with this blog, was shadow banned by Facebook for six months before I discovered this had occurred. I believe it was due to a technical error on FB’s part, not because the content here questions the role that social media propaganda plays in our society. But – FB had the mechanisms in place to erroneously and secretly shadow ban users.
TripAdvisor is a user content web site that purports to offer travel information and user written reviews of travel destinations and service. For years, TripAdvisor deleted negative reviews – and did not disclose this to users of the web site. This included deletion of information about serious crime activities – resulting in travel to destinations that were not safe.
Having been de facto censored for unknown reasons by our local newspaper, for innocuous speech based on factual data, that cited references and clearly explained the methodology – I find corporate censorship of speech troubling.
Particularly when they promote free speech for themselves but not for others.
What happens when most public discourse takes place on corporate platforms and corporations choose what will be published and what will be silenced? (Answer: See Spokane!)
More posts on shadow banning here.