Facebook has recently banned numerous users from their platform- mainly Conservative voices who have been known for faulty conspiracies or “hate speech”. Some notable names banned where Alex Jones, Milo Yiannopoulos, Paul Watson, and many more. To be immediately clear, I disagree with all of these individuals in just about every way possible and think that most of the ideas they promote are nonsense. Beyond that I believe that some of these ideas have deeply hurt other families such as those impacted by the shooting at Sandy Hook, in which for a long time Alex Jones called a conspiracy theory and attacked those families. That’s not cool and it is completely uncalled for. For this reason, it makes the banning of these people a topic in which it is easy to agree with Facebook’s decision. They are widely unpopular figures and their ideas are toxic, so what is wrong with axing them from the platform right? Now, in a case in which a Facebook user is posting something which is against the law or threatening violent action I completely agree it is necessary to remove that person. The question is: When does this censorship stop and is Facebook taking responsibility for their content?
I understand that Facebook is a private company and thus has the end say of what gets to be on their platform. My argument is less geared towards what Facebook is able to legally do and more so what they should do as a platform in which anyone is able to join.
Conspiracies, Ideas, Facts
Here is the first thing that troubles me about this ban- the concept of something being either a conspiracy, an idea, or a fact can often be misconstrued depending on who is interpreting the information at hand. There are often topics that are claimed to be conspiracies in which the majority of people understand they are not real and there is factual evidence to back whatever given event. On the other hand, many ideas have been labeled as conspiracies that are very cloudy and I believe that these ideas need to be talked about. Some people have been labeled as conspiracy theorists who have exposed US war crimes and inhumane actions taken on foreign land, but these people are potentially communicating something that is extremely important and worthy of discussion at the very least. So does this provide the means to censor these people on social media based on the “conspiracy theorist” label given to them. You walk a very fine line when you deem yourself the person or organization responsible for deciding what discussions get to be had. Many major news organizations supported different explanations for going to war in the Middle-East and a lot of these explanations have been proven to not have factual backing. This ended up costing money, resources, and most importantly American soldiers. Do we then cut major news media for being conspiracy theorists and putting harmful information in to the minds of American people? No, because it is all part of a discussion that needs to be had. Compare this to Facebook which any given person, regardless of their background or education level, can participate. Obviously people believe and post ideas that are clearly not true and have no evidence to back them, but that does not mean that they need to be censored from the wider discussion. I understand freedom of speech is not directly the issue at hand based on the circumstances and legal argument… but in a way it really is. When a platform which claims to be tolerant of all people and ideologies starts censoring what gets to be talked about, the overall discussion becomes very shady and a lack of trust begins to develop. Now, here’s what I’m getting at…
If you look at news corporations such as MSNBC, Fox News, or Dailywire- these news platforms all have a variety of publishers and editors that work for them in which the corporations take responsibility for the content posted on their behalf. That is why with each of these companies you see a specific ideology being displayed, because the corporations own the content and are able to edit stories published. Now, I am not saying that Facebook is in exactly the same situation as these corporations, but statistics show that people today are turning to social media much more as their source of news. On top of this it is known that Facebook has tried to incorporate news and business in to their platform. Therefore, it is as if Facebook is acting as an editor of news but the premise on which they remove or flag content is not entirely clear. This poses a very peculiar situation in which a lot of political voices are worried about the future of doing business and spreading news on Facebook. There was an observation made that Facebook may be intentionally putting news on the feed the object the views of the given user in order to increase dialogue and usage of the app. None of this poses any apparent legal problems but it is troubling given the amount of people who turn to Facebook as a source of news. If one of those prior companies posts something that is factually incorrect it will likely be made public and they could face legal consequences based on what the situation creates.
Take a Position
Facebook needs to decide whether they will treat political discussion as an open public discussion, or if they wish to participate as an editor of their content. News corporations are responsible for the content posted on their behalf and I do not think this is the position Facebook wants to be in. Why? Because in a time of “fake news” it is important to know what they actual fake news is. Mainstream media putting their certain take on a story or reporting factual information with a clear bias is not fake news. There is a portion of the population who view the mainstream media as a spreader of completely inaccurate events, statistics, or reports. This is not the truth as all of these corporations must abide by certain rules in order to have credibility among people and the political community. I have many criticisms for the mainstream media such as that they have poor takes on certain things, choose to not cover some important information, and have inconsistencies in their reporting. However, the one thing they do not do is share factually incorrect information- without facing consequences of some sort. If you want to know where fake news is being spread each and every day at an incredible pace, turn to Facebook. The amount of accounts and people who completely make stories up in order to fire up a certain political base, or post a click-bait article that is often shared without even being read is out of control. I can speak from a personal standpoint on this issue. On an average day I will scroll through my feed and typically see anywhere from 3 to upwards of 15 political posts that are simply garbage. They are pages or people looking to get attention from a certain people. Some of these posts make certain individuals or groups of people look extremely bad. Does Facebook really want to take ownership of all of these posts as an editor? To think that, even with their technologies and employees, Facebook could act as an editor is asinine. I do not think that they intend to do this nor do I think it is wise to. Given that, they should leave Facebook as a public platform where all discussions can be had as long as they are within the law and do not promote direct evils. When you give a company that has the power that Facebook possesses the ability to dictate what conversations get to be had there is a serious problem at hand. Like I said before, I do not agree with any of the people they banned and I think the majority of people can agree racism, sexism, xenophobic comments, harmful conspiracies, etc… are not okay and have no place in American society. My point is that nobody is entirely clear of what dictates being banned given the recent events, so this could have a negative effect in the future. There are important discussions that need to be had and social media is a place this can take place. However, when you have a group of tech wizards that frankly live in a secluded bubble from normal society deciding what gets to be talked about, some conversations that need to be had get axed. As previously stated, it is easy to agree with this ban now since it is people who are widely regarded as negative people. But once the ball gets rolling who knows where it is going to stop. Say someone wants to post a rant about how they are upset about the amount of corporate power in politics and want to clean up elections and public policy… What if Facebook decides this is attacking big corporations such as theirs and remove the post? That is an important conversation that with some choice words and opinions could dictate “hate” and get a post or person removed. Going back to the example before there are some very dark facts that can be spread about events in wars that the US participates in that could trigger a ban- even though they might be true. Or political conversations that can get really personal and aggressive? These conversations need to be had in order to make progress on policy and sharpen the ideas of others, but this is hard to do if conversations are not being allowed. I have a clear ideology and set of policy ideas, but I strongly believe that those ideas in opposition to mine need to have just as much of a platform. Debate and conversation are good in the world of politics, and on a website that has so much political discussion and is seen as a public space to interact, the company should not dictate what gets to be discussed. I understand Facebook has a terms of service and guidelines to be followed in order to use their platform, but these recent bans show more of a ban on ideology than they do on content. I hope that Facebook does not keep moving in the direction of censoring voices, and I hope that Facebook remains a place for open discussions. People who wish to spread the news that mainstream media refuses to cover need a larger platform and Facebook has shown that it can be this. However, it is a slippery slope that they will have to go down if they start to demonstrate an ideology of their own and I do not believe that it benefits either side to take this course.
Published by: Easton Rhodehouse