Facebook: Destroyer of Free Speech
There has been a bullshit meme going around for over a decade that somehow the World Wide Web (which is distinctly different from “the internet” which includes IRC, Email, and Usenet, etc.) somehow is the bastion of “free speech” and that it has “opened up knowledge to all”. While I’ll certainly admit that it had broadened free speech, and that it had broadened knowledge for a few years after its consumer inception (which I usually gauge to have started around 1995 or 1996), that time has long passed.
But it was the promise of the World Wide Web years and years ago. All of those mainstream news sources–NBC, CBS, CNN, ABC, etc.–would no longer be able to control the narrative of what is going on locally and globally, thanks to the World Wide Web’s open nature which stood against the potential for censorship. Unfortunately, various governments very quickly began to order some websites that were considered “dangerous” to be taken down.
Now, the government orders for web hosting companies were–of course–backed by the gun (as all government edicts are in the end), so I can understand why the web hosting companies would play ball. And often these web hosting companies are very small, barely making a living off of what they do, so again, hey, I understand. You don’t want to lose your shirt.
Many times, though, those websites could just go to another company, or even another country, and just pop the site up somewhere else. That’s the beautiful ability of open systems.
However, the World Wide Web is quickly becoming a closed system. Why? Because now the World Wide Web–by the average person’s use–is not a collection of millions or billions of websites. It’s largely a collection of maybe 3 or 4 websites. Facebook? Google? Twitter? Amazon? That is your World Wide Web today.
Oh, but you go to various news sites, and you just use Facebook or Twitter to get to them? How long is it before Facebook and others are actually hosting the stories from those news organization directly, instead of you going to a separate site? Oh shit…looks like it’s already happening. Once that’s in place, do you think people will ever bother to leave Facebook? Of course they won’t.
While there is nothing “ethically” wrong with Facebook hosting news organizations, there is a provable concern over Facebook being the place where everybody goes for their information and social interaction: the fact that they control what gets posted.
Recently, with the Syrian refugee (they’re not “migrants”) situation in Europe, the justice minister of Germany–Heiko Maas–is asking Facebook to remove posts that express “xenophobia or racism” over the Syrians. And what is Facebook’s response?
“Facebook is no place for racism.”
Effectively, Facebook has said they are interested in working with the government to put an end to freedom of speech. Not that I support racism, and I happily speak out against what I consider racist (and much of the rhetoric around the Syrian refugee situation is racist). But that’s just it: I speak out against it. I don’t quash it. If you want to say what I consider to be nonsense, knock yourself out. I just won’t pay attention to you. It’s that simple.
This is a classic argument. When television ruled the world, there would be whole political movements against various channels or TV shows that the “masses” considered offensive or destructive to their precious cult-ure. But the simple response to those people that were so concerned over what was on the ol’ boob tube was either change the fucking channel, or turn the television off. No one is forcing you to watch anything.
And you don’t have to look at, “friend”, “follow”, or read what people post on Facebook. And does Facebook have the “ethical right” to control and monitor what gets put on their site? Of course.
But here’s the real problem: Facebook is excited and willing to help governments. Please, Mr. German Justice Minister, how can I perform fellatio on you today? That’s effectively Facebook’s attitude. And as an anarchist, I find that deplorable.
As someone that recognizes the fact that most racism, hate, and war comes from governments themselves via various actions, laws, and institutionalizing, Facebook isn’t solving anything here. They are bolstering government control. If Facebook has become the primary source of the spreading of news and ideas, then it has also become a central point of failure for real news and ideas to reach others. It has become a central point of failure against the spreading of truth. And it has become so happily.
There are a million other disgusting actions that Facebook has taken as a company (behavioral experimentation without consent, not allowing pictures of women breastfeeding, using “Like” buttons from other websites to push ads on you after they said they never would, etc.), and those are reasons alone to never use–or stop using–the service. But for Facebook to be so open and willing to work with governments in quelling free speech, and to actually do so, is so over the top…well…I’ll leave the rest to you.
In the end, the World Wide Web is just as controlled and censored a medium as television–if not more so, thanks to the growth in the use of algorithms–and needs to be recognized as such. There are alternative ways in which the infrastructure commonly known as “the internet” can be used besides the World Wide Web (the aforementioned IRC, Usenet, etc.), and there are even alternative infrastructures that can be built (though those efforts are beginning to be severely hampered), but unless people see the need for these, they will either never be used, or never be created.
Now, if you’ll excuse me, I need to go post this on Facebook.