Until a few months ago, Facebook was considered a medium where information, ideas, and opinion could be exchanged freely. Dictators were challenged, tyranny was defeated, plight of the oppressed were highlighted, humanity and morality were stirred, and hope was spread, all through a platform that was and perhaps still remains the undisputed king of social media.
Unfortunately, the king seems to have gotten drunk on its own power and stature lately, displaying an arrogance that goes beyond belief. What was seen as an impartial platform that had utmost respect for users’ freedom of speech has now become the new and hideous face of online censorship. The social networking site has adopted an aggressive policy against “hate speech” and “racism”, but with just one tiny catch – only it gets to decide what’s hate speech and racism.
Maybe that would not have been so bad if the company had not allowed the mask of impartiality slip off its face, getting exposed as a weapon of mass censorship and a tool to impose specific political views. Had it only been one instance, one may have forgiven Facebook for mocking the freedom of speech and suppressing facts, but the social networking site certainly appears to have grown fond of playing god, passing down judgements on the nature of facts and silencing the voices of millions. Three of these voices, however, have suffered the greatest:
- The voice of India-held Kashmir sympathizers
- The voice of support for the Kurdish minority in Turkey
- The voice of those with conservative beliefs and opinions
Each of these voices had been raised for a reason, and each was equally entitled to the right of being heard. Unfortunately, Facebook felt otherwise, and decided to play judge, jury, executioner.
Facebook Suppressing Voices of Support for People of Indian-Held Kashmir
Ever since the Indian forces killed a popular young separatist commander and alleged terrorist Burhan Wani, calm and peace has deserted India-held Kashmir. Hardly a day has gone by since then without protests, violence, and curfews in the state.
Sympathetic to the plight of the Kashmiri people, several film makers, journalists, and activists turned to social media to spread awareness by uploading images, videos, and stories of the ongoing atrocities and violation of human rights, which including the use of pellet guns by the police that left countless people visually impaired.
Facebook reacted to this awareness campaign by removing such posts and blocking accounts of users behind them.
Defending the clampdown, a Facebook spokesperson in India stated that the company’s Community Standards do not allow support or glorification of terrorists, terrorist organizations, or acts of terror. However, he added that discussions on the issue of Kashmir or any other issue are most welcome.
Much to the company’s dismay, the official statement failed to control the damage being caused by its inconsistent and unclear moderation policy.
Talking to The Washington Post, Ather Zia, a Kashmiri by birth but currently teaching anthropology at the University of Northern Colorado, also found herself becoming victim of Facebook’s crackdown on Kashmir-related posts, convincing her of the social networking site’s bias.
“It is safe to assume creating awareness for Kashmir using social media or writing about the ground reality is under severe threat,” Zia sighed.
Many commentators and observers believe that the Indian government has got absolutely nothing to do with this censorship, and that Facebook is doing it on its own accord in an attempt to proactively please the government.
Irrespective of who is leading the campaign to suppress the voice of Kashmir sympathizers, the message is loud and clear – Facebook alone gets to decide what information stays or flows through the platform.
Facebook Complicit in Turkey’s Prejudice towards the Kurdish Minority
Kurds, the largest ethnic minority in Turkey, have not exactly been an apple of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s eye. The oppression and various other forms of abuses suffered by the Kurds have failed to attract due attention from the global community because of the Turkish government’s intolerance for publishing or sharing of any material that expose its policies.
Facebook’s recent actions have shown that even it does not wish for the plight of the Kurdish people to be highlighted since allowing that may offend President Erdogan and his supporters.
Earlier this year, three British activists campaigning for the rights and protection of Kurds on Facebook got a shock of their life after they noticed the social media deleting their posts, allegedly on behalf of Turkey.
The posts deleted included protest signs and images of graffiti to make the world aware of what the Kurdish people are going through, their demand for autonomy and basic human rights, and how they are being treated by the Turkish government.
Although Facebook admitted that it had removed a few posts erroneously, it defended the action taken against rest of the posts by stating that those posts violated its moderation policies. Some of the posts and images removed made references to terrorist organizations such as the Turkey-based Kurdish militia group PKK, while some were of offensive political nature. One post that was taken off by Facebook depicted President Erdogan as an ISIS executioner.
The activists strongly believe that the social media giant did not just take action against their campaign due to its Community Standards. They are accusing it of deliberate censorship on request of the Turkish government, a criticism that the social media giant has had to face many times.
It is no big secret that Facebook receives thousands of requests each year from various countries for removal of inappropriate or offensive content, with the US, UK, India, and Turkey being the most frequent complainants.
While the company has never revealed how often it has translated those requests into action, neutral observers seem to agree that Turkey has had plenty of luck with getting their requests entertained.
Facebook Encroaching on Users’ Right to Voice Conservative Views
Another area where Facebook’s intolerance for free speech is being observed is voicing of conservative views. The world has changed a lot lately, with ideas and lifestyles that were once considered taboo now gaining acceptance.
However, this “liberal” attitude is not shared by everyone, as there are still many people who strongly believe in adhering to the traditional beliefs and values, be it related to same-sex marriage, abortion, or the “correct” bathroom for the transgender community.
It is indeed refreshing to see societies and governments finally recognizing and respecting the rights of people to choose how they want to live, whom they want to love, or decide the fate of their pregnancy.
Of course, there will always be people who disagree, and no matter how infuriating their opinions sound, they are entitled to their difference of opinion, provided they do not threaten to snatch anyone’s freedom, or go around imposing their views on anyone.
Facebook, or any other social media, has no right to strip these dissenting voices of their freedom to express themselves. It should remain neutral and let its users decide which views to support and which to reject. The people have the right to choose, not the social media site.
Not too long ago, there was a heated transgender bathroom war taking place on Facebook. Many people supported transsexuals’ right to use whichever bathroom they felt more comfortable with, whereas there were some who held a different opinion. Each side was doing its best to win the argument, switching between logic and expletives constantly.
While this was continuing, Facebook stepped in and began removing posts and blocking accounts of those expressing a conservative view. The moderation team deemed conservative opinions hate speech and thought it best to remove them so that the transgender community would not get more hurt than it probably already is.
One of the victims, a UC San Diego student Carlos Flores, found his comment removed and account suspended for 24 hours after posting the following comment:
“Better to be ‘transphobic’ than realityphobic. The truth is that no amount of scalpel cuts, dresses or wings can make a man a woman. All it can do is make him look like a woman.”
Once the ban lifted, he returned and immediately posted this status:
“I am returning from a 24-hour ban from FB. Apparently Comrade Zuckerberg does not tolerate the inconvenient truth that no amount of scalpel cuts can make a man a woman.”
This time, his account was banned for three days.
These kind of actions naturally raise many questions regarding Facebook’s impartiality and underscore its discriminatory attitude towards users with conservative views.
The Community Standards that Facebook often cites after clamping down on conservative posts and users do not seem to apply to users with liberal views, who are often given a license to freely challenge and even bash the beliefs and opinions of the conservative factions, with the moderation team ignoring it because of users’ “right to free speech”. Free speech is not really free if only one party gets to exercise it, while any dissenting voice is silenced.
There is a growing consensus among Facebook users that the social networking platform is hostile to free speech. It is playing judge, jury, and executioner without any transparency or accountability.
Such bigotry cannot be allowed to continue. While a collective boycott of the service is unrealistic, a combined effort to pressurize the company into ending its war on free speech and quit its partisan attitude might just work.
True, chances of Facebook succumbing to the popular demand and quitting its policy of online censorship are slim, but then again, one should never underestimate the strength in numbers.