Who’s Afraid of Facebook? Maybe We Should All Be More WaryA whistleblower showed that rules are enforced very unevenly. Facebook allows extremist language to flourish in some venues and censors mainstream speech in others
Facebook is, according to Fortune Magazine, the “dominant social media app,” with $84.2 billion in revenue in 2019, especially after acquiring Instagram. So dominant that government hearings into questionable activities offer mere slaps on the wrist. There is a reason for that, as we shall soon see.
Facebook is, of course, a censor but at best a clumsy one. It removed a page by international disease experts critical of the COVID lockdowns, as if they were mere health cranks. Recently, Facebook announced that it plans to continue to take down posts whose claims its fact checkers “deem false” (February 8, 2021).
To get some sense of what that means, Facebook censored an article at UnHerd that was critical of the recent WHO report that exculpated the Wuhan virus lab from any role in the COVID-19 pandemic:
In the article in question, Ian Birrell suggested that there are very many reasons to be suspicious of the WHO’s recent report into the origins of the coronavirus. Its investigations were brief, its research was flimsy and the composition of its team was questionable. But most glaring of all was surely its attempt to exclude from consideration anything which might be inconvenient for the Chinese Communist Party. It concluded, for example, that there was no evidence that the virus had come either from the Wuhan wet market, or from the government-run laboratory in the area.Douglas Murray, “Facebook’s incompetent censorship” at UnHerd (February 12, 2021)
In fact, a number of nation states have expressed the sense that the report is a whitewash, done to please the new world power, China. Why does Facebook feel its fact checkers “know better” than on-the-ground experts in a number of countries? Facebook later reinstated the UnHerd article but, as Murray notes, “it does seem a remarkable coincidence that the one UnHerd article to receive such a content warning was deeply critical of the world’s most powerful totalitarian state.”
Murray also observes that Facebook’s censorship is systematically one-sided:
For instance, since the start of the pandemic the WHO has supported the introduction of lockdown measures. But it has also repeatedly said that such lockdowns should be temporary, or otherwise short in duration. Yet in recent months, Big Tech censorship has only been aimed at people arguing against lockdowns, or urging people to break the restrictions — while completely ignoring the many people still arguing for their extension. The problem, in other words, is a double-standard. If the WHO’s advice is sacrosanct, why is one alternative view worthy of censorship but another one permitted?Douglas Murray, “Facebook’s incompetent censorship” at UnHerd (February 12, 2021)
But here’s something that many sources miss: Facebook is not acting on its own. Big corporations are actually demanding that Facebook do more censorship. Bloomberg noted that companies such as Coca-Cola, Hershey, Unilever, and Verizon dropped ads recently, causing Facebook shares to fall by 8.3% ($56 billion in market value) and CEO Mark Zuckerberg just became $7.2 billion poorer. Their issue was that Facebook does not do enough to police “hate speech.” Zuckerberg promised to work harder to comply.
Some think that the background to these corporate demands is that many corporations have bought heavily into “Woke” culture, which is suspicious of free speech and open discussion. And their new stance may be a business decision. As author and journalist Lee Smith explains,
The one-word motto they came to live by was globalism—that is, the freedom to structure commercial relationships and social enterprises without reference to the well-being of the particular society in which they happened to make their livings and raise their children.
Undergirding the globalist enterprise was China’s accession to the World Trade Organization in 2001. For decades, American policymakers and the corporate class said they saw China as a rival, but the elite that Friedman described saw enlightened Chinese autocracy as a friend and even as a model—which was not surprising, given that the Chinese Communist Party became their source of power, wealth, and prestige. Why did they trade with an authoritarian regime and send millions of American manufacturing jobs off to China thereby impoverish working Americans? Because it made them rich. They salved their consciences by telling themselves they had no choice but to deal with China: It was big, productive, and efficient and its rise was inevitable. And besides, the American workers hurt by the deal deserved to be punished—who could defend a class of reactionary and racist ideological naysayers standing in the way of what was best for progress?Lee Smith, “The Thirty Tyrants” at Tablet
Thus, on-the-ground opinions in North America that most people would not regard as objectionable — let alone hate speech — have become intolerable in elite circles. Big Woke corporations, their eyes on the markets in totalitarian China, want something done about them.
Among the things Facebook is doing:
➤ Facebook went after a research group that was studying its ad policies: “Time and again, they’ve discovered gross failures in Facebook’s ability to enforce its own policies and live up to its promises.” And Facebook does not welcome the outside inspection.
Among the things Facebook is not doing:
➤ It is not enforcing rules in a commonsensical way. For example, most moderators are not skilled and have only a few seconds to decide on a post. When 1400 pages of rules were brown-bagged to the New York Times in 2018, “An examination of the files revealed numerous gaps, biases and outright errors. As Facebook employees grope for the right answers, they have allowed extremist language to flourish in some countries while censoring mainstream speech in others…” There is little reason to think that much has changed. A number of lawsuits are on the go.
What if Facebook is just let to go its merry way? At tech mag Gizmodo,we are told it could end up exerting some control over your health choices:
Apparently unsatiated by hoovering up users’ personal data on its platforms, Facebook’s hoping to get its mitts on their health data as well. The company’s reportedly building a smartwatch as its next foray into hardware, and the device could debut as soon as next year, according to a Friday report from the Information.Alyse Stanley, “Facebook’s Reportedly Working on a Smartwatch so It Can Hoover Up Your Health Data Too” at Gizmodo (February 12, 2021)
Stanley offers, by way of assessment, given Facebook’s record:
Given Facebook’s track record of privacy missteps, this newest venture seems like a disaster waiting to happen. The company’s dropped so many red flags over the years to indicate that forking over your health data to them is a very dumb idea. If this smartwatch does end up seeing the light of day (the report said that development’s pretty far along, but Facebook could still can the project), I give it two or three months before the scandalous headlines start rolling in followed by Facebook issuing yet another half-hearted apology.Alyse Stanley, “Facebook’s Reportedly Working on a Smartwatch so It Can Hoover Up Your Health Data Too” at Gizmodo (February 12, 2021)
Holding Facebook and other social media accountable won’t be easy, given their corporate backing. Over the next few months, we will continue to examine the merits of various current proposals.
You may also wish to read: Little-known civil rights law could bring big tech to its knees. John G. West: An existing law could provide grounds to sue Amazon, Facebook, Apple and other big tech companies if they engage in political censorship. An existing law could provide grounds to sue Amazon, Facebook, Apple and other big tech companies if they engage in political censorship.
Florida governor, nation states, take on Big Tech. Rattled by censorship and deplatforming, many jurisdictions are looking at ways to make Silicon Valley respect citizens’ rights. Florida’s Governor DeSantis may be the most colorful. Mexico’s president, Poland’s government, and Hungary’s justice minister all want more freedom of expression for citizens than Big Tech seems to want to provide.