Like many Metro State students, I am active on social media. I value the freedom to connect with friends, family, fellow students and former high school classmates on Facebook. I enjoy the ability to exchange news and viewpoints online, even with those who disagree with me.
Facebook has emerged as a new, postmodern public square. It has a huge social network global market share.
But the “Great Social Media Purge” of 2018 and recent litigation have shown that Facebook, Google, YouTube, Twitter and others are not the ostensibly neutral playgrounds they claim to be.
It might be time to unfriend Facebook.
In May 2018, Facebook began a partnership with the Atlantic Council to combat fake news, disinformation and foreign meddling in the midterm elections. This sounds like a reasonable goal considering the alarming number of adults who cannot distinguish between real and fake news.
The principal targets of the purge were bots, Russians and Russian bots. But according to the Gizmodo media website, many of the purged Facebook accounts were operated and maintained by Americans—not Russian bots.
I was not surprised to see Alex Jones and Infowars accounts taken down in August 2018. I did not subscribe to his content.
But among the hundreds of accounts purged on Oct. 11 were pages that I had followed. Most were libertarian. Many were critical of the establishment, police brutality, censorship and U.S. involvement in Syria. They did not meet the criteria for hate speech that got Alex Jones banned.
Instead, these accounts allegedly violated Facebook’s rules against “coordinated inauthentic behavior.” That means account administrators were accused of using spammy tactics to drive traffic to their pages.
What if the Facebook pages you follow today got “de-platformed” tomorrow with little or no explanation? What if it was a page critical of President Trump? Or in support of Black Lives Matter?
Metro State students are used to having free speech in the public square of the university, and many students might assume that they have similar freedom in their online lives. But this is simply not the case—yet.
You may want to watch for the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in Manhattan Community Access Corp. v. Halleck. The case involves a community public access television network, but the court’s decision may determine whether private social media companies can censor their users.
In a 2017 federal court case, Prager University v. Google LLC, Prager argued that YouTube (owned by Google) engaged in censorship and as a state actor it could be sued on First Amendment grounds. In a win for social media companies, the court dismissed the lawsuit in March 2018 and rejected the claim that YouTube performs a “public function.” Prager failed to establish that YouTube is a public forum subject to the First Amendment.
Facebook’s partnership with the Atlantic Council deserves greater scrutiny too. The Washington, D.C.-based think tank sounds generic and nonpartisan—until you follow the money.
According to their own website, the Atlantic Council is funded by: the State Department; U.S. Navy, Army and Air Force; NATO; various foreign powers including the United Arab Emirates; weapons contractors, oil companies, and major corporations like Google.
Do you see now why it is counter to Facebook’s interests to be “a platform for all ideas” (as Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg described it)? Why would Facebook want to promote viewpoints that their pro-Western, hawkish donors might not like?
I believe in the inherent value in the free exchange of ideas. The most effective way to counter censorship on social media is to flock other social media platforms. Don’t wait for action from the Trump administration or the courts.
Facebook may not have a viable market competitor now, but that can change—if we unfriend them.