Late last night the Online Hate Prevention Institute published a new briefing highlighting how some people were abusing reporting systems to attack those speaking out against hate. In our briefing we highlight how false reports of nudity were seeing anti-hate content taken down and the accounts of those challenging the hate suspended.
The reports were not only false, but actually impossible. In one example a video which contained only audio was removed for nudity, in another a screen shot of a conversation was removed for nudity. It looks like the system is on auto-pilot. Not only is hate speech being permitted, now efforts to speak up against this hate are being censored. The abuse of the system can be put down to a glitch in the system. This needs to be fixed and the accounts of those anti-hate activists who have been suspended need to be restored.
Having avoided using the word “Facebook” in the first part of this article, with the exception of the ironic title, it’s time to explain why we had to do this. The reason related to freedom of speech, or rather, the lack there of on Facebook.
Facebook are actively using their monopoly to control information and serve their own interest. Facebook is not a democracy. It is not a free marketplace of ideas. It is not a haven for free speech. To prove this, try to boost a post containing criticism of Facebook. For example, the post about our new briefing. You can see the rejection of that boost above.
In making the post we were very careful not to include text in the image as Facebook regularly rejects posts which have more than 20% text (regardless of the content). This is reasonable as it is a form of censorship which content neutral. It is the online equivalent of a Time, Place, or Manner Restrictions which even under the US First Amendment can still be constitutionally permitted. Our post, however, did not breach the image restrictions, so we clicked through to see more detail of Facebook’s objection.
It seems the objection is either to the title “Facebook Fails to Protect Free Speech Against Hate”, a claim fully substantiated in the post, or our claim that something is not right in the world of Facebook and the call for this to stop. Does Facebook expect uncritical adulation, even when it is getting it wrong?
We’ve put this to the test with this new briefing “Facebook is Awesome”. Lets see if Facebook allows it to be boosted. Then lets see if they change their mind once they become aware of the contents.
Facebook prides itself on enabling freedom of expression. In an address in Bogotá, Colombia, on January 15th this year Facebook’s CEO, Mark Zuckerberg, said: “That really gets to the core of what Facebook and the internet are, I think, and what we’re all here to do. We really stand up and try to make it so that everyone can have as much of a voice as possible”. The reduction in organic reach, meaning fewer and fewer followers see a post, can be countered by those with money if they pay for boosts. This itself creates an uneven market place of ideas, but one we are comfortable with. It betrays the openness Facebook brought which allowed it to disrupt traditional media, but in the end mirror other forms of communication where those with money can buy access to a larger audience. A model we are comfortable with. The problem is that Facebook is a monopoly and is using its power to deny a voice to those critical of it. This isn’t done through overt censorship, which would cause an immediate uproar, but through the denial of boosts, meaning far less people can see the critical content.
In short, you can say anything you like about Facebook, and they will help you share it on Facebook, provided what you say looks like this:
What can you do? Right now the most helpful thing you can do is to share this briefing on Facebook. The more people who share it, the more people who will see it, even if the boost is again rejected.
You can also help by clicking through to our previous briefing on Facebook’s censorship of free speech countering online hate and sharing it. There’s also the problem of the page promoting Dylann Roof, racism, misogyny and violent extremism – see the briefing and take action.
More generally, we also invite you to support the work of the Online Hate Prevention Institute. We are a registered Australian charity and we need your help to make an impact. Three ways to help us are: liking our Facebook page, making donation (donations are tax deductible in Australia) and joining our mailing list.