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Facebook imposes tough censorship

Billy Ahmed | May 01, 2018 00:00:00

Facebook, known as the world's prodigious social media company, for the first time opened up the touchstone or the pattern it uses to censor speech on its forum, absolutely at its own discretion, and with no legal oversight or recourse.

Facebook's widely comprehensive "community guideline" is so expansive that it can completely change any political views or statement in such a tactical manner as violent, defamatory, "extremist," "bullying" or -- in a crafty makeshift -- "fake news," and that is difficult for removal or, undetectable censorship.

The so-called "community guidelines" are used by 20,000 personnel in Facebook's "security" and "moderation" departments -- constituting the absolute majority of the company's employees -- to lay out such a political communication and block content that the massive and unaccountable technology monopoly deems objectionable. This is the objective of the discourse of this censorship apparatus. It is Facebook's policy regarding "fake news." In the freshly released community guidelines, the social media 'monopoly' made it clear that it would not let its users know that their content is being blocked from distribution as "fake news" because such censorship is a "sensitive issue".

To decrease that, the spread of false news on Facebook should not be ignored but given top priority; it is its responsibility to weigh which fake news; it is a provocative and stimulating sensitive issue. Facebook also desires to help people stay informed without inhibiting generative public dialogue. According to Facebook, there is also a fine line between false news and satire or opinion. For this reason, it doesn't remove false news from Facebook but instead, significantly reduces its distribution by showing it lower in the News Feed.

The campaign against "Fake News" was triggered in November 2016, immediately following the 2016 US election, by the US intelligence agencies, the Democratic Party, and the major technology giants. This conspiracy, in the wake of the electoral defeat of Hillary Clinton -- who was otherwise considered the favoured candidate of the US military/intelligence apparatus -- in the context of widespread support for socialist ideas that were reflected in the campaign of Bernie Sanders -- was piloted as a media offensive. It was aimed at pegging the growth of social opposition on a vague, and rarely defined, concept called "fake news."

Interestingly enough, hundreds of major newspapers devoted to the topic, never defined what "fake news" is. Hillary Clinton, in her memoir of the 2016 election, linked the genesis of "fake news" with WikiLeaks and its release of documents 'revealing' the Clinton campaign to having 'rigged' the 2016 primary and being engaged in allegedly corrupt relations with the Wall Street.

Considering that no one has ever pointed out any inaccuracies in WikiLeaks' reporting, the clear connotation is that the definition of "fake news" is any information, whether true or false, that is damaging or discrediting to the state.

In other words, the blocking of "fake news" by the major technology and media giants, working on behalf of the US intelligence agencies, is nothing but political censorship.

Given this fact, Facebook's wording is highly important. Because the suppression of "fake news," i.e., censorship, is a "sensitive issue," the company will do it secretly, by "significantly reduc[ing] its distribution by showing it lower in the News Feed."

La Rochefoucauld's maxim that "hypocrisy is the compliment vice pays to virtue" applies here. Since journalists, publishers and users would raise a hue and cry over their content being censored, Facebook simply carries out its censorship in secret. By blocking distribution on the Facebook news feed, the company's actions have the same effect as simply deleting content, but without any legal proof that the company violated its users' First Amendment rights.

In reality Facebook is the only technology company that has spilled out these actions with such command, as Google and Twitter have both admitted, via legal representatives in congressional testimony wherein its chief executive claimed about the company's following a similar policy to suppress "fake news" -- i.e., oppositional viewpoints.

It is revealed by one renowned web source that leading left-wing, anti-war, and socialist web sites had their search traffic from Google fall by up to 75 per cent after the company announced measures to "improve" its search system and thus the allegation was correct outright.

The technology giants, new to their users, are blocking "alternative" news sources and promoting "trusted" news outlets, including, as Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg put it earlier this year, the New York Times and Wall Street Journal.

The measures, taken in secret to limit the distribution of critical political viewpoints, are accompanied by more explicit censorship measures. In a quarterly report published on April 25 last, Google removed over 8.0 million videos from YouTube, of which the great majority -- some 6.7 million -- were "first flagged for review by machines rather than humans." More than three quarters of the videos flagged by Google's artificial intelligence (AI) systems "were removed before they received a single view."

The company declared, "Deploying machine learning actually means more people reviewing content, not fewer. Our systems rely on human review to assess whether content violates our policies." Like Facebook, Google has hired an army of censors, aiming to employ 10,000 people in this department by the end of the year.

However, this content does not put Facebook and Google under legal obligation to police. In the US, communications companies are not responsible under its law for what their users say or do on their platform. They have, rather, voluntarily become an arm of the US police and law enforcement agencies, but with one qualification: as a private corporation, they claim exemption, credible, from the protections under the First Amendment barring the state from impinging on the freedom of expression.

The real target of the crackdown by the technology giants on the freedom of speech is not "fake news," "extremist content," or any other of the infinitude catchphrases used to justify censorship. Rather, crackdown is putting restraints on the growth of oppositional sources of news and political analysis, and the use of social media to organise political resistance. As the strike movement by workers in the United States and internationally continues to grow, the technology giants will only expand their assault on the freedom of expression.

Billy Ahmed is a tea planter and an analyst, contributing write-ups to the print media.

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