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Is Facebook Really Waging War On Free Speech?

by Neil Bamforth

Now, before anyone starts, I know. Facebook is a private company. It offers a free service to members. A free platform. Facebook makes the rules and, if you don’t like them then don’t use them. Simple. Except, of course, nothing is ever that simple is it?

You see, Facebook is a ‘one off’. There is nothing remotely like them anywhere on the internet. There are no other platforms that offer what Facebook offers, and the fact they offer it for free is terrific of course.

Up to about a decade ago, perhaps even less. Five years or so? – well, up to then everything was fine and dandy in Facebook land. People could say pretty much whatever they liked. Yes, there were limits even then. Openly racist or incitement to violent posts was still taken down and the posters punished with being banned for varying lengths of time, but then Facebook went into overdrive.

It coincided, more or less, with Trump. I have absolutely no idea what Trump did, or didn’t say, via Facebook. I heard some things he said, or rather typed, and there certainly seemed to be some quite controversial things in there to put it mildly.

Anyway, Facebook went into overdrive with or without the incentive of Trump’s utterances.

I’m certainly no expert in this but, as Facebook users aren’t customers – in other words, we don’t pay to use the platform – there isn’t any ‘customer service’ to help with any issues.

I’m told, and by all means correct me if I’m wrong, that Facebook uses things like ‘key words’ and ‘algorithms’, whatever the hell ‘algorithms’ are, to monitor what is and isn’t acceptable content or, more accurately, what does and doesn’t ‘go against community standards’ and, of course, they are quite entitled to do this.

Unfortunately, whilst Facebook remains an excellent platform in terms of being free of cost to users, it is increasingly anything but an excellent platform via these ‘key words’ and ‘algorithm’ thingamabobs.

For example – and there are literally hundreds and thousands of examples, but I’ll just use two – a lady in the USA bought a new lipstick. She put a picture on her Facebook page of said new lipstick.

Something – an algorithm? A Facebook ‘bot’? – misidentified the lady’s lipstick as a bullet. Her account was promptly suspended and she went into what is not particularly fondly referred to as ‘Facebook jail’. The ‘whatever it was thingamabob of Facebook had made a mistake but there was absolutely nothing the lady could do about it.

Apparently, she appealed – which you can do, albeit quite who or what you are appealing to is something of a mystery – but to no avail. Her lipstick, taken for a bullet, went against ‘community standards’ and that was that.

Lunacy? Certainly, but it gets worse.

A gay man at a rock concert took a provocative picture of himself and sent it to his boyfriend via Messenger. Messenger, of course, is the message service you get to use via having a Facebook account.

In complete innocence, the gay man understandably believed the provocative picture was being sent privately to his boyfriend – as indeed it was. However, Facebook, or rather their ‘bots’, ‘algorithms’ or whatever the hell they are, can monitor ‘Messenger’ as they can Facebook.

His account was not just suspended, it was deleted by Facebook.

The gay man appealed. Totally bewildered by what he had actually done wrong. Facebook took three months to reply after he actually tracked down a legitimate e-mail address for them. He explained the circumstances and apologized, saying that he had no idea sending the picture to his boyfriend could ever be construed as wrong. Facebook’s response was typical. His account was gone forever – as were all his pictures, his contact list and, indeed, so many memories he had shared with friends.

I’ve spent some time in Facebook ‘jail’ myself. Indeed, I’m in there for 30 days as I type here – 25 to go. I’d actually only just got out after 30 days 4 days prior to getting another 30 days.

My earlier 30 days were for putting a laughing emoji in response to somebody else’s post. Now I was, and remain, fully aware that many wouldn’t see the funny side of said post. It was a picture of illegal migrants crossing the English Channel in a dingy. Thousands have made the perilous crossing. All fit healthy young men of often unknown origin. Many Brits are increasingly alarmed about it.

Alongside the picture was another picture of a hand holding a large pin with the question ‘Would you?’ – in other words would you stick the pin in the dingy to stop them. I put a laughing emoji. That’s it. No comment, just a laughing emoji. For that, I got 30 days of Facebook jail.

I can’t imagine what the hundreds of ‘commenters’ almost invariably saying “Yes!” – and considerably more than just ‘yes’ – might have got if I got 30 days just for an emoji.

My current 30 days is for having a debate with a politically left-wing person on a Facebook site that is intentionally a mix of Brexit ‘leave’ and ‘remain’ and politically ‘left’ and ‘right’.

The site was set up as an alternative to just joining groups that are ‘echo chambers’ of like-minded people.

The debate concerned the illegal channel crossing migrants. The left-wing chap had called me a racist for saying they should not only be stopped from arriving, but those that do or have should also be returned whence they came. My reason is that we are still in a pandemic and our borders should be closed until we are clear of it.

That got me another 30 days. That also made me finally realize that Facebook is biased against anything it perceives as ‘right wing’.

That being said, I have a number of politically left-wing friends who have found themselves in Facebook jail for seemingly innocuous comments as well, although it is becoming increasingly apparent that the political right tends to be incarcerated far more frequently.

I have absolutely no idea at all whether there is any truth in something a friend is firmly convinced is true either. She believes that, as Facebook must clearly(?) know I Admin a generally ‘right wing’ public site, Patriots UK United, then it may be I’m labeled as a ‘bad person’ in Facebook land? Who knows? It sounds a bit ‘conspiracy theory’ to me but if not, I certainly seem to have been at least a bit unfortunate.

Particularly when I see some of the things people post and comment with seeming impunity irrespective of political affiliations.

So, have Facebook become something of an enemy to free speech? Yes, I’d say so. Not necessarily with malice aforethought though.

When you have an organization that has no interest in speaking to its users – understandably as said users only make them money indirectly through being the people who see the advertisements that pop up, paid for by said advertisers – why should Facebook, or particularly Zuckerberg, who has made his millions, give a damn.

After all, where else can those fed up of Facebook go if they want to maintain an internet presence of a similar kind? Nowhere. There is nowhere like Facebook.

Facebook, as a private company, can make whatever rules they like. They can do as they like and there isn’t a damn thing anyone can do about it.

A little alarming really that a private company can act as ‘speech’ police.

Still, as I don’t buy lipstick or send provocative pictures to a gay boyfriend I suppose I can be slightly thankful.

More and more people have taken to referring to Facebook as ‘Facefuck’ or ‘Fuckbook’. I’ve referred to them as both in posts and not gone to jail for it. Perhaps the algorithms had taken a day off?

 

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Posted by on April 8, 2021. Filed under COMMENTARY/OPINION. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0. You can leave a response or trackback to this entry
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6 Responses to Is Facebook Really Waging War On Free Speech?

  1. mrloser82 Reply

    April 10, 2021 at 4:33 pm

    In America, don’t know about UK, the first amendment protects us from the government (specifically Congress) passing laws designed to suppress our speech. It, as you note, doesn’t protect people from any business (e.g., Facebook), NGO or individual suppressing speech. The cornucopia of contemptuous faux-Constitutionalists constantly carping about “cancel culture” are completely clueless about this concept. Is that sad, laughable or both? Cheers!

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  3. Glenn Geist Reply

    April 9, 2021 at 9:11 am

    To me facebook is there to rile you up and to promote angry exchanges as much as the average image may be of cats and dogs and beautiful scenery. It simply reflects the insanity of our day.

    Somehow I’ve avoided being expelled or even cuffed. I don’t know why.

    But I concur – it’s their thing. The New York Times can refuse to publish my rants too. We don’t actually have any guarantee of freedom of speech at all but only that Congress can’t make laws abridging it, even though in some cases they certainly can.

    On the other hand, sitting in a restaurant the other day with another couple, I felt I had to be careful what I talked about until the very large man with a Trump-DeSantis 2024 T shirt left. Armed, crazy and stupid people limit my speech far more than Facebook. Any number of organizations and agents of indignation have a lot to say about what words I choose or what I think is humorous and one risks more than facebook jail when talking where the 280 pound giant with the fascist T-shirt and Glock-in-the-pocket can hear me. And it’s certainly not only the self righteous and militant on one side of the great divide with the knee on our necks.

  4. Michael John Scott Reply

    April 9, 2021 at 8:00 am

    I’m on Facebook every day, and I enjoy it. I do not, however, engage in arguments or even heated discussions. If Trumpers show up I immediately block them. I don’t want to hear their twisted opinions and have no time for them or their ilk. In other words, FB is for fun, not for angry discourse, unless of course I’m stating an opinion and then I can be as angry as I want. After all, I can’t block myself can I? As to FB bans, well it’s happened to me twice following a number of warnings. Once was a 24-hour ban and once for 3 days. Each time I said something not quite so complimentary about Christians, and someone complained, the main reason FB takes notice after all. Unlike those that come from nowhere, I know who reported me each time, and I subsequently blocked the bitch. The nice thing is no one can ban me from saying what I want here and I often do.

  5. Linda Reply

    April 8, 2021 at 12:16 pm

    Facebook gives you a warning, then a few hours, then a week, and if you keep being an asshole, you will finally get a month. Eventually, you will learn, or stop using Facebook. I got blocked for anti rump and anti Christian remarks such as calling people Maggot or Christian when they did asshole things.

  6. Bill Formby Reply

    April 8, 2021 at 12:07 pm

    A good rant Neil. But, as you noted at the beginning. it is their “Thing” so they get to make the rules. Personally, I go there much less often I used to.

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