Facebook and the throttling of free speech
Over the past week, two articles have illustrated how one social media behemoth is doing its best to rewrite the definition of free speech and force conformity upon everyone – writers, creators, audience and all. It’s a direct and immediate threat to authors, too, because much of our intended audience is part of the Facebook ecosystem. If we’re targeted by, or banned from, that ecosystem, it can have very serious consequences for our ability to promote our work – much less make a living from it.
First, it emerged that Facebook and other major social media companies have been bankrolling a project to insert journalists with politically correct views into local and regional news media.
While Report for America claims that it’s funding local journalism, what it’s actually doing is embedding social justice activists in local papers who are often targeted at pursuing a narrow political agenda.
. . .
The agenda is often built into the very description of what Report for America’s activists are doing. Or at least it is to Report for America’s donors who are told what the activists they fund are doing. But ordinary readers of local publications and stations are often not told that what they’re reading isn’t real local reporting: it’s the work of activists funded by a national organization and its wealthy backers.
The lack of transparency is dishonest, unethical, and a new low even in the era of fake news.
The left-wing foundations and donors aren’t funding journalism, they’re buying coverage that fits their agenda. And local newspapers are renting out their newsrooms to wealthy left-wing organizations. Beyond the usual radical foundations like the Ford Foundation, the MacArthur Foundation, and the Knight Foundation, the Facebook Journalism Project has poured millions of dollars into RFA.
There’s more at the link.
This development might affect authors’ ability to promote their work. I know many of us have been interviewed, or our books reviewed, by local media. If that door closes because of political disagreement, or if reviews are suddenly tinged with negativity for the same reason, what impact will it have on the independent writing community? What about publicity for upcoming events such as book signings, bookshop tours, perhaps a library reading or meet-and-greet event, and so on?
Then comes the news that Facebook has established a new oversight board that could “rewrite the rules of the entire internet“.
If all goes according to plan, this Supreme Court-style body will be up and running by the fall, hearing cases and issuing decisions on what content should or shouldn’t be removed from the world’s largest social network.
It’s a bold idea for Facebook. But the board isn’t just for Facebook. In designing this new organization, Facebook’s leaders deliberately structured it so that it could have a life beyond the company. To do that, they formed a separate legal trust with an initial $130 million investment from Facebook. But they also empowered that trust to both accept funding from sources outside Facebook and to form companies of its own. That structure … opens up the possibility that the trust might some day spin off additional oversight boards for, say, YouTube, Twitter or any other platform that makes content moderation decisions.
Again, more at the link.
The New York Post warns:
The Facebook Oversight Board … is a recipe for left-wing censorship.
Sure, there are a few token conservatives … [but] the majority are clearly prone to view truth through a left-wing lens.
. . .
Tellingly, Wired reports that insiders said getting liberals for the board was fairly easy “since human rights activists generally shade liberal” — revealing a horrific blindness about the difference between activism in the fuzzy human-rights field and a genuine commitment to free speech.
The real purpose of the board is to get Mark Zuckerberg and other Facebook execs out of the no-win position of being responsible for what speech they ban. It outsources censorship. The panel will initially only take up appeals of Facebook’s decisions to block content, but is eventually supposed to start deleting on its own.
More at the link. Bold, underlined text is my emphasis.
I have real concern that this development, coming as it does on top of many years of growing liberal, left-wing, progressive domination of the arts and entertainment worlds, may be the harbinger of a serious attempt to shut down any perspectives in any field of entertainment – including writing (books, articles, screenplays, whatever) and social media such as Facebook, Twitter, individual blogs, etc. – that doesn’t fit the prevailing progressive or social justice narrative. That could have serious implications for every author. Even if our individual voices can’t be silenced, dissemination of our views – and promotion of our books – most certainly can, to a very large extent. It’s “deplatforming” writ large. What’s more, if major vendors and distributors such as Amazon.com sign on to this sort of external oversight, it may influence whether or not they allow authors to publish and market their works on their platforms.
Has the time come to seriously consider alternative methods and media of promotion, publishing and marketing? Until now, most of us (including yours truly) have stayed with existing marketing and promotion tools and avenues, on the grounds that it would cost too much in time, money and other overheads to create new ones. Has the time come when we need to make a concerted effort to find – or establish – alternatives?
Please tell us what you think in a comment. Since this may affect all of us, let’s hear each other’s views.