The Battle for Online Freedom: Facebook’s Subtle Stranglehold on Dissenting Voices
Despite posturing as a digital public square enabling open sharing, Facebook increasingly squeezes dissenting voices. Politically inconvenient content and non-mainstream opinions face shadowbanning – covert censorship making posts invisible to others while the original poster remains unaware.
This deceptive practice hides the scope of constrained expression. But telltale signs persist – suddenly reduced engagement on normally popular content, and inability for personal profiles to reshare page posts. The overall effect resembles targeted strangulation of ideas questioning status quo politics or economics.
Didn’t realise Facebook restricts discourse? More users find themselves silenced daily. If you’re not in Facebook jail you are subject to restrictions for breaking community rules, unless of course you just post great pics of your cats and dinner…
This gradual asphyxiation of ideas applies especially to political content. Pages discussing economic ideas questioning soulless capitalism find reach throttled and income choked off. Didn’t realise Facebook was an enforcer of acceptable discourse? Neither did millions of unknowingly silenced users.
Just weeks after Facebook purged its own Black History Month ads by mistake, Women’s History Month ads are also being flagged and deleted.
Though the tech giant received media praise for its “refreshing” Black History Month content, it was one of dozens of advertisers that saw its ad campaigns about Black history removed from the social network in 2021.
Recent prominent cases highlight the opaque human decisions and algorithms throttling expression behind the scenes. When Facebook suddenly deleted national and local pages of the Socialist Workers Party without explanation, it took an outcry across other platforms to finally force restoration.
Facebook also disabled the London Bus Drivers Rank-and-File Committee Facebook page, which was set up with the support of the Socialist Equality Party (UK) to organise opposition among bus drivers.
None of the individuals whose accounts were disabled had violated Facebook’s policies. Upon attempting to appeal the deletion of their account, they received an error message stating, “We cannot review the decision to disable your account.”
With no explanation or warning, Facebook has effectively seized the intellectual property of those it has targeted, cutting them off from years of their photos, writings and online discussions.
Similarly, a popular progressive media site named Another Angry Voice saw reach abruptly plummet due to apparent shadowbanning. Its content – perceived as controversial yet vital counterbalance – faced blunt suppression whether manually or automatically triggered.
With Facebook failing to meaningfully address the blacklist, Another Angry Voice fled to Substack. For sites relying on Facebook for audience building, migration brings massive costs and uncertainty. But staying also kills growth by covert muting, power and profit flowing to those controlling chokepoints.
Mark Zuckerberg said Facebook has no “shadow banning” policy, but admitted that mistakes do happen.
Rogan then asked Zuckerberg to explain whether “shadow banning” occurred on social media platforms such as Facebook. He replied: “There’s no policy that is ‘shadow banning’, so I think it’s sort of a slang term. But that maybe refers to some of the demotions [of posts] that we’re talking about.”
If a post is “marked as false by a fact-checker, it will get somewhat less shown,” Zuckerberg said. “But if there’s some history within a page, then there can be some kind of broader policy that applies.”
He continued: “Unfortunately, there are a lot of mistake, and part of the issue is that there’s 3.5 billion people using these services, and if we make a mistake 0.1% of the time, there’s still million of mistakes … and that sucks.”
He also blamed “some bug in the system, or some system didn’t work like it was supposed to,” for posts that get banned. “It is a real issue, but it isn’t an ideological issue.”
Zuckerberg said some posts failed to reach a wide audience simply because they are not very good. While others have seen Facebook’s own Analytics that suggests shadow baling rather than poor content.
Looking elsewhere doesn’t solve the problem
Since 2016, US intelligence agencies have pressured big tech to restrict “fake news” using censorship. But their crosshairs disproportionately target anti-war, socialist and progressive voices over right-wing conspiracy content. Cancel culture has become corporate.
When Google demoted “alternative” perspectives in 2017, traffic to leftist sites plummeted overnight. The World Socialist Web Site’s David North condemned this “political blacklisting”, demanding reversal of socialist news suppression. In Congress, Google’s CEO later acknowledged “compliance issues” affecting WSWS under questioning.
Facebook and Twitter rapidly followed suit, deleting millions of leftist subscribers. These moves culminate in Facebook’s recent wholesale erasure of a prominent leftist organisation’s entire social media presence alongside dozens of allied accounts.
although we have to admit since Elon Musk bought out X formally known as Twitter his free speech policy has healed, stating X will protect the public’s right to free expression. We will not allow agenda-driven activists, or even our own profits, to deter our vision.
Freedom of Expression Matters
While reasonable minds may critique elements of ideology, the blanket elimination of their digital footprint crosses a grave line. All groups, despite disagreements spreading the entire political spectrum, must enjoy space clarifying differences so people can decide freely. Big tech’s scalpel when removing content increasingly resembles a sledgehammer, with unchecked power to restrict discourse.
Those supporting a Labour government should pay heed – these forces won’t hesitate corralling leftist voices threatening business domination of politics if Keir Starmer takes power either. Labour is considering introducing new laws to combat what it claims to be disinformation. Centrists offer no salvation, equally serving the machine.
Together these instances reveal how speech gets policed by unaccountable forces serving their own agendas. Those deciding standards operate as a new clergy, no different than states regulating printing presses. Challenging their authority requires platforms owned by communities, not distant technocrats picking acceptable voices in a modern Index Librorum Prohibitorum.
The insidious practice traces back decades before social media, variously called stealth banning, ghost banning or being “sent to Coventry.” But systems like Facebook’s refined methods allowing large scale suppression with barely detectable fingerprints. The results shape online experience towards banality – reducing civic debate, big brother is watching you…
Ostensibly, standards aim limiting harassment and abuse. In reality, overzealous policies stifle thoughtful discussion of complex issues. Confusion abounds around where lines exist, with boundaries constantly shifting. But certain political ideologies clearly enjoy advantages, weaponising reporting functions to instigate speech investigation. These tools become cudgels, enforcing compliance.
For ease of enforcement, platforms adopt centrist positions mirroring traditional media paradigms. Yet the internet promised decentralisation – open access beyond gatekeepers. As private monopolies control flows of information, they amass power once reserved for states. Regulation struggles confronting entities more mighty than governments, building panopticons beyond accountability.
The patent for this censorship Facebook even admits to DISPLAYING banned comments to the original poster – to provide “fewer incentives to spam or circumvent filters.” Orwellian indeed!
So forget genuine open debate on Facebook – AI already decides acceptable topics and blacklists the rest as you prattle about pets and dinner. The promise of an open town square rings hollow when certain shops get shuttered silently. Bland conformity brings no liberation.
Reclaiming promise of online liberty requires rethinking entrenched structures. Solutions demand placing ownership back in users’ hands through decentralisation and transparency. Only then can all voices carry equal weight. Until transforming the current model bent towards greed and control, free expression remains constrained by unaccountable corporate dictates, not restored. But collective action offers paths resisting the domination of elite opinion choreographing approved speech.
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