Facebook and Government: Working Together for Thought ManagementA critical distinction between Facebook and traditional media is that Facebook is global and total, not regional and partial
In recent years, motivated perhaps by a sense of public duty, Facebook (rebranded as Meta) has turned its attention to fine-grained political reeducation and censorship of the nearly 3 billion monthly active users of its platform. All the instances listed below (plus, doubtless, many others we don’t know of at press time) add up to quite the program of thought management:
● Working closely with the FBI to monitor Americans who questioned the results of the 2020 election:
“It was done outside the legal process and without probable cause,” alleged one of the sources, who spoke on condition of -anonymity.
“Facebook provides the FBI with private conversations which are protected by the First Amendment without any subpoena.”
These private messages then have been farmed out as “leads” to FBI field offices around the country, which subsequently requested subpoenas from the partner US Attorney’s Office in their district to officially obtain the private conversations that Facebook already had shown them.
But when the targeted Facebook users were investigated by agents in a local FBI field office, sometimes using covert surveillance techniques, nothing criminal or violent turned up.Miranda Devine, “Facebook spied on private messages of Americans who questioned 2020 election” at New York Post (September 14, 2022)
Significantly, subsequent FBI investigations turned up little or nothing of interest. One FBI source dubbed it “A waste of our time.” But, of course, such campaigns may not waste the time of governments and compliant corporations who seek to identify persons who would question statements from authorities, however peacefully or constructively.
● Using third-party fact-checking partners to wade into the comments sections of Facebook pages to “reeducate” those who question politically correct claims — in this case, the issue turned on whether average drivers can easily afford electric cars.
● Systematically taking down politically incorrect news stories, such as stories that support the hypothesis that COVID-19 originated in gain-of-function virus research in a lab in Wuhan, China — the lab-leak theory. In the real world, it’s a reasonable assumption but awkward because the United States was helping fund gain-of-function virus research.
● Working closely with government in regular meetings to censor information about the COVID-19 pandemic as false when it may simply have been politically inconvenient:
In a lawsuit filed last May, Louisiana Attorney General Jeff Landry and Missouri Attorney General Eric Schmitt argue that the administration’s “Orwellian” crusade against “misinformation” violates the First Amendment. They are trying to find out more about this “vast ‘Censorship Enterprise’ across a multitude of federal agencies,” and the administration is fighting them every step of the way.
So far, Landry and Schmitt have identified 45 federal officials who “communicate with social media platforms” about curtailing “misinformation.” Emails obtained during discovery show those platforms are desperate to comply with the government’s demands for speech restrictions, including the removal of specific messages and accounts.Jacob Sullum, “Biden’s Sneaky Censors” at Reason (September 14, 2022)
One example is the enforcement of the wearing of masks — recently, Facebook has been backing away from enforcing rules against doubt about the strongly government-backed strategy. For one thing, there is good reason for thinking that only some specialized masks effectively deter viruses. But the rules required “masks” in general in public places. Censorship probably prevented fruitful discussion of these issues.
Louisiana and Missouri question whether the federal government and Facebook have any business colluding with Facebook in this manner. From a statement in their lawsuit:
If the White House spokesperson stood at her podium and repeatedly demanded that private booksellers burn certain books that the federal government disfavors, or else face grave legal consequences, everyone would see the First Amendment problem. If federal officials sat in on the editorial board meetings of the New York Times and told them what stories they should run if they want to avoid legal problems, everyone would see the First Amendment problem.
This case is worse than these hypotheticals. Here are the words of Jen Psaki, then-White House spokesperson: “We are in regular touch with these social media platforms, and those engagements typically happen through members of our senior staff…. We’re flagging problematic posts for Facebook that spread disinformation…. We engage with them regularly and they certainly understand what our asks are.” Glenn Decl. Ex. 30, at 9-11 (emphasis added) (Ex. A). The government’s “problematic posts,” id., are those that supposedly contain “disinformation and misinformation, especially related to COVID-19, vaccinations, and elections.” – Memorandum of Law
A critical distinction between Facebook and traditional media is that Facebook is global and total, not regional and partial. As a result, news seekers must take the trouble to look for alternative sources that tell them the things that Facebook and/or the governnment judges that they should not know. Increasingly, they will find the search worthwhile.
You may also wish to read: Twitter’s censorship — Child porn (shrug… ), MDs’ doubts: NO! Twitter censored doctors and researchers who raised doubts about COVID strategies but seemed helpless about child porn. A disturbing pattern emerges when one looks at well-known instances of Twitter acting as a vigorous censor of views and claims that were later vindicated.
Pinterest bans climate change “misinformation.” Pinterest might be the first company to implement such a strict ban, but what if it’s not the last? Last week, Pinterest banned climate change misinformation from its platform, becoming the first major social media company to do so outright.