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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.

44 Comments
  1. BobtheRegisterredFool #

    I don’t have enough skin directly in this game to have given serious thought to the business side of this.

    It makes sense that Facebook might be escalating now. The current state of information warfare seems to be very intense, maybe even intensifying.

    In the past, I thought I knew what was going on. Who the essential actors were, and what their motivations were. I have enough theories now that I must conclude I do not know.

    My forecast is that because of the Covid-19 pandemic, and the information warfare around it, effects are wildly unpredictable.

    May 10, 2020
  2. Reziac #

    And how many more “independent publications” are… not?

    Example: The Daily Yonder, which purports to be an independent voice for rural America. And initially it ran some good balanced articles. But one day an article set off my spidey-sense, so I tracked down their funding. Only a couple layers later, I banged into the Open Society Foundation (George Soros). Yep, just as I’d abruptly suspected.

    May 10, 2020
    • *independent person from Rural America has her spidey sense tingling just from exposure to the kind of folks who tend to self-identify as a “voice of rural America.”*

      I don’t suppose you remember what subject it was that let you know it was an attempt to gaslight? (That is, not “give a place for people who are rural to talk,” but “frame what is acceptable for rural people to believe”?)

      May 10, 2020
      • Or worse yet – give those flowers space to bloom, so that those voicing thoughts contrary to the preferred narrative may be brutally and terminally pruned at an appropriate future moment.
        Yeah, I’m getting suspicious that way.
        I read history.
        The real stuff, original docs, not the 1619 Project version.

        May 12, 2020
  3. If they are going to be editing content, even outsourcing it, then they need to be held accountable for everything on their platform the same as other publishers. They keep trying to have it both ways.

    May 10, 2020
    • Mary #

      Yes. That’s the big issue. They can’t have the rights of both publishers and common carriers and the duties of neither.

      May 10, 2020
    • mrsizer #

      This. One thousand time, this. There must be plenty of people out there with standing to sue and get that common carrier designation overturned. Why is no one doing it?

      May 11, 2020
  4. 1. A killer app DOMINATES the infant field of social media, to the point that: There.Is.No.Real.Alternative.

    2. The creator of that killer app, enriched beyond belief, and without anyone to gainsay him, then applies restrictions on users of the app.

    What is a person who values individual freedom, limited government, and the benefits of a free economy to do?

    May 10, 2020
    • Stephen J. #

      My thought is, have Facebook and Twitter declared to be public utilities, like Ma Bell. Fold their user fees into the normal ISP billing so it’s less obvious an impact on users. Now that they’re public, bang: anything and everything on them has First Amendment protections. Only thing outlawed is direct advocacy of violence against individuals or treason against governments.

      May 10, 2020
      • Steffen #

        Fold them into the Post Office. Make them live under the same rules and regulations.

        May 10, 2020
    • Mary #

      Stop giving them special rights. They can be publishers, or common carriers. Like everyone else.

      May 10, 2020
    • TRX #

      > There.Is.No.Real.Alternative.

      So what?

      There are businesses that have chosen to abandon their web sites and go “social only”, but I’ve always managed to find a workaround.

      I get along just fine without Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and all the other “social media.” Their kind of “free” is far more than I’m willing to pay.

      May 11, 2020
  5. TRX #

    > Has the time come to seriously consider alternative methods and media of promotion, publishing and marketing?

    That time came years ago. But every time I point it out, I get variations on “but Amazon would never do that!” or “but all my fans are on Facebook” or “I just want to write, I don’t want do that grotty “selling” stuff.”

    May 10, 2020
    • snelson134 #

      #MeToo.

      May 10, 2020
    • BobtheRegisterredFool #

      Thing is, the current situation possibly has enough discontent with the Boche of Fash for a competitor to get a preference cascade. It maybe wasn’t near as vulnerable three or five years ago.

      Amazon similarly, current events are stressful for every business, the divorce suggests instability in Bezos, and if the organizational culture of Amazon execs is sufficiently converged to be a problem, they are unlikely to let the current opportunity go to waste.

      It is really easy to tick off a lot of people right now, who aren’t normally paying attention to stuff, and would not usually take serious revenge for such slights as they notice. And execs in tech companies can work remotely, are less likely to grok how irritable folks are.

      May 10, 2020
    • snelson134 #

      And it looks like the Amazon shareholders are getting restless about that.

      https://pjmedia.com/culture/tyler-o-neil/2020/05/12/shareholders-pressure-amazon-to-drop-corrupt-leftist-group-behind-viewpoint-discrimination-n390236

      May 12, 2020
  6. Ronald Zukowski. #

    This is part of a concerted and deliberate to remove the right eye of the internet media. The Kung Flu was not specifically invented for this purpose, and does not seem to be quite powerful enough BUT they are not letting it go to waste–in a manner of speaking.
    Meanwhile, we in the center AND on the right, have no zillion Aire financial angel to fund the effort to re–face bookface.
    The only thing to do is pray. Of course, that was always the case.

    May 10, 2020
  7. Have to admit my first thought is, “I am so darn tired.

    Hoping I might have ideas in a few days when the tetanus shot aftereffects wear off. All I can say is, it’s never enough for them, is it? They have to have it all, and not even allow other points of view to breathe.

    May 10, 2020
    • Mary #

      They want to bring about the New Soviet Man and the paradise of Communism. (Buzzwords change but essence remains.) They know this is possible. It is not happening. That can only because some malicious souls are stopping it. If only they tracked down all the malicious souls and stopped them, it would happen. That it has not happened is sufficient proof that they aren’t hard enough on us.

      May 10, 2020
  8. Christopher M. Chupik #

    Come now. If you don’t hold the wrong views, you have nothing to fear . . . /sarc

    May 10, 2020
    • Mary #

      The belief that you should not make false confessions accusing yourself of the worst crimes for the good of the Revolution is, of course, a wrong view.

      May 10, 2020
  9. Draven #

    I hate facebook.

    what, you said to tell y’all what i think….

    May 10, 2020
  10. Anybody remember when Lotus 123 was the killer ap?

    Y’all noticed that Lotus hasn’t been a company for a long time?

    Lycos used to be the big winner in the search wars. Then Yahoo.

    So right now, Farcebook is the big name. Hooray. That can change in a heartbeat. Setting up a kangaroo court for the specific purpose of censorship is the kind of thing that takes companies off the A list.

    SJWs are loud. Karens generally are loud. But they are not numerous. And they are fickle. Just as we have weathered the crash of Big Publishing we will weather this.

    But, as Sarah Hoyt keeps saying, we may need to adjust what we write to make a living.

    I will not be amazed if Amazon starts censoring Kindle books. Leftist ideology permeates the computer business after all. I will also not be amazed when competition pops up to serve that market.

    May 10, 2020
    • TRX #

      > I will not be amazed if Amazon starts censoring Kindle books.

      How could you know if they were? All they have to do is lower their search ratings until nobody is likely to discover them.

      Amazon’s search algorithms are horribly broken already, though most people don’t seem to notice. It can be very hard to prove the difference between malice and incompetence.

      May 10, 2020
      • Google has been screwing with search results for several years now, and it is quite evident that they do because they keep changing it. One day you search for “X” and find Mr. X’s Blog at the top of the first page. Another day you search and find Mr. X at the bottom of page ten.

        For example, I just searched “The Phantom Soapbox” on DuckDuckGo and my blog doesn’t come up at all. Comments I’ve left at Sarah Hoyt and Mad Genius Club do come up, as does some weird thing where someone appears to have posted a couple of years of my blog, hoping to get ad traffic I guess.

        But weirdly, when I do the same search at Google my blog is right at the top on page 1. Which is where it should be, given that its been listed since 2002 and the name of it is “The Phantom Soapbox”.

        So, malice or incompetence? My vote is for “yes” since we see both all the time, sometimes both at once where they’re maliciously incompetent.

        If Amazon was keeping my book in the basement because somebody decided they didn’t like me, there’s no way I could know. If they were keeping pro-gun books or Conservative books in the basement, that we would know. You search for a book you know exists by an author you know exists and don’t get a hit, that’s incompetence. You search all the authors and all the books that are like that one and don’t get a hit, that’s malice.

        So far you do see that kind of thing at Farcebook, Apple and Google but not at Amazon. That company -knows- what they sell and what they don’t, possibly Bezos is smart enough to sell what sells and leave the politics to politicians. But he won’t be CEO forever, and the next guy might be a moron.

        May 10, 2020
        • Is it https://phantomsoapboxa.blogspot.com/ ? It was the second and third result in my DDG search.

          May 10, 2020
        • Google etc do screw with their searches– because they have algorithms chasing “most useful.”

          Which they believe can be identified by stuff like links, and times accessed and similar gamable junk.

          I wish like crazy they’d give a “I will build my own algorithm” option…

          May 10, 2020
        • vicki #

          Want to see their bias? Search Google for “american inventors”. A casual glance at the row of images at the top of the page will tell you that something is up. This has been true since at least 2016. Try to find either of the Wright Brothers in the row of images. The lineup changes, but the Wrights are always missing. Often Alexander Graham Bell is missing, too.

          May 11, 2020
      • snelson134 #

        Amazon has already been doing that to certain conservative authors. It’s not hard to cover it up when you have a TOS that’s considerably less solid than a cloud.

        May 10, 2020
      • Oh, I notice. When you’re trying to search for Japanese oni and you pull up Celtic fairytales and urban fantasy instead, you notice.

        This in a search specifically under the “folklore” category, no less.

        I figure if that’s broken, I have no idea how many other books I can’t find.

        May 10, 2020
  11. Back in the days of company towns, there was a Supreme Court case…Marsh v Alabama..which held that a company-owned town may in fact function as a community, and rights of free speech must still be protected.

    “The more an owner, for his advantage, opens up his property for use by the public in general, the more do his rights become circumscribed by the statutory and constitutional rights of those who use it…Whether a corporation or a municipality owns or possesses the town, the public in either case has an identical interest in the functioning of the community in such manner that the channels of communication remain free.”

    https://www.mtsu.edu/first-amendment/article/571/marsh-v-alabama

    A case could be made that the same logic applies to a platform such as Facebook.

    May 10, 2020
    • I really hope that would not fly, because Farcebook is not a community. It is a private computer bulletin board, and has owners.

      A community is a -place- first of all, and more than that a place where humans live. Words have meanings, we should not allow lawyers to twist them.

      May 10, 2020
      • The Supreme Court decision recognized that there was no convenient way for people to interact for purposes of political/theological discussion other than within the property owned by the shipbuilding company. As more discussion has shifted to on-line, there are obviously alternatives to FB, but being excluded from the venue that has an overwhelming market position is pretty damaging. I think it’s a legitimate precedent. “Freedom of the press” has also been judged, properly, to apply to media that do not employ anything resembling a printing press.

        Speaking of FB’s owners, who are the shareholders: I think there is also a question as to whether FB’s management is properly carrying out their fiduciary duty to those owners when they politicize the platform…Are their decisions truly based on good-faith estimates of what is good for the business, or are they based on the personal political views of Mark Zuckerberg and a few others?

        May 10, 2020
      • Primary definition of community is folks living in a place, or a group with a shared characteristic– thus “the facebook community” is a legitimate use of the word.

        Legally Facebook has already been identified along the lines of meat-space with public posts requiring no warrant, while your “friends only” feed would require a warrant or an invite.

        May 10, 2020
      • Now, Facebook could change the way it behaves so that it isn’t functioning like a community– same way that the facebook groups do, actually.

        May 10, 2020
      • TRX #

        “Place” has already been held to cover private clubs and other organizations, some of which may have no fixed place or even physical existance. That was one of the “no blacks, Jews, or women” civil rights lawsuits back in the 1960s.

        I’d say “computer bulletin board” would easily be covered by that decision. Particularly since they’re provably engaging in discrimination and censorship…

        May 11, 2020
        • snelson134 #

          “That was one of the “no blacks, Jews, or women” civil rights lawsuits back in the 1960s.”

          I can tell you EXACTLY what the response will be: “Conservative / Republican isn’t one of the protected classes in the Constitution, nyah-nyah-nyah!!”

          Never mind that it’s almost laughably obvious that the discrimination is being done on the basis of perceived religion (Christian/Jewish), perceived race (white), perceived national origin (Anglosphere) and perceived age (“OK, boomer”). We could also include perceived sexual orientation (straight), since that’s being counted as a protected class both de facto and de jure.

          Note: I use perceived to account for the fact that the Left doesn’t consider actual minorities to be “authentic” if they aren’t on the plantation.

          I have been told exactly that any time discriminatory treatment is discussed, such as the Dallas judge closing down Hobby Lobby as “non-essential” while leaving Michael’s open, or San Antonio’s treatment of Chick-Fil-A, or…….

          May 11, 2020
  12. OldNFO #

    Personally, I think it is going to take a lawsuit or class action suit and some deep pocket backers to force them to equality. I’m all for declaring them and Google declared public utilities.

    May 10, 2020
    • TRX #

      Flip side, you’d get what the current party in power wanted you to see, then what the established (almost certainly leftist) bureaucracy wanted you to see, or what the Karens running a “Commission” wanted you to see.

      You’d just be changing the censors, not getting rid of them.

      May 11, 2020
      • BobtheRegisterredFool #

        Yeah, but perhaps changing them to more incompetent censors, with less ability to get away with collaboration with the PRC.

        We aren’t yet in a state of de jure war with the PRC, and the next world war hasn’t officially started. So the most effective remedies are still in the ‘much more harm than good’ area.

        I say sue them for the remedy of shutting down. 1. They are colluding to refuse to abide by the restrictions of the publisher or the common carrier. 2. Lock down cheerleading means that they have caused harm to a fairly wide class of persons. 3. If their websites are shut down, they can no longer cause harm. Of course, I have no idea about legal processes and arguments, so that suggestion is not necessarily effective.

        May 11, 2020

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