The Wall Street Journal published an essay Wednesday warning of Facebook’s “secret rules” used to police users’ accounts and remove “offensive” material.
In the article, writer Kirsten Grind notes that social media users can wind up in “Facebook jail” for the strangest of reasons, including “sharing a link to a story in Smithsonian magazine about tribal New Guinea.”
Yet perhaps even more worrisome than Facebook suspensions and outright content removal is the tech giant’s frequent recourse to shadow banning, the diminishment of the visibility of certain posts or entire accounts without the users’ awareness.
“Facebook increasingly polices content in ways that aren’t disclosed to users, in hopes of avoiding disputes over its decisions, according to current and former employees,” Grind writes.
“The algorithms bury questionable posts, showing them to fewer users, quietly restricting the reach of those suspected of misbehavior rather than taking down the content or locking them out of the platform entirely,” she adds.
In this way, Facebook is able to manipulate the ideas being expressed on its platform without having to give an explanation for the rationale behind its decisions.
Tech giant Facebook laid out its censorship plan on Thursday, stating it would begin demoting content that its “systems predict may be misinformation” relating to election fraud. https://t.co/O5RZylMR4J
— Breitbart News (@BreitbartNews) November 6, 2020
According to Grind, Facebook has acknowledged this practice in certain cases.
“To protect state elections in India, it said in a March blog post that it would ‘significantly reduce the distribution of content that our proactive detection technology identifies as likely hate speech or violence and incitement,’” she observes.
In its quarterly Community Standards Enforcement report, Facebook declared it had taken down 6.3 million pieces of content under the “bullying and harassment” category during the fourth quarter of 2020, an increase of 3.5 million from the third quarter, in part because of “increasing our automation abilities.”
Facebook’s employs notoriously elastic categories such as “false news” and “hate speech,” allowing for considerable subjective interpretation, a situation that users can find frustrating.
As Breitbart News reported, Facebook removed posts in February advertising a bestselling book criticizing the “toxic femininity” and Marxist roots of radical feminism, claiming the posts violated the company’s “commerce policies.”
The book in question — The Anti-Mary Exposed: Rescuing the Culture from Toxic Femininity — was written by Carrie Gress, PhD, a Catholic professor at Pontifex University and mother of five.
The ads were also banned on Instagram, which is also owned by Facebook, and the book experienced repeated “glitches” on Amazon as well, with the removal of buttons to purchase the book.
Dr. Gress told Breitbart News she thinks her use of the expression “toxic femininity” has irritated radical feminists, who think of toxicity as the exclusive domain of males.
“I can imagine those words in my title could be a trigger,” Gress said. “As I note in the book, women are supposed to be untouchable as long as they do what the reigning culture tells them to do.”
Gress also said that it is striking how many Catholic books in particular face Amazon censorship.
“Facebook eventually did get back to the book sellers and said there was a ‘glitch’ in the algorithm,” she said. “If it were an isolated case, I wouldn’t give it all a second thought, but there seem to be a lot of glitches in algorithms, with it affecting a lot more Catholic products than just mine.”
Gress said she is by no means alone in being censored by Big Tech for her conservative and Catholic ideas, but suggested that ultimately this progressive heavy-handedness may backfire.
“People want to do something, anything to fight this Big Tech monopoly that we all feel like we are living under, so it is a great moment for people with fresh ideas to start building,” she told Breitbart News.
Facebook has censored Stop the Steal, a rapidly growing Facebook page set up by Trump voters organizing in-person rallies at voting locations to demand integrity in the ballot counting process. https://t.co/BYeb8e41TW
— Breitbart News (@BreitbartNews) November 5, 2020
Despite the mounting resistance to Big Tech censorship, social media executives have insisted on their right to abide by the policies they see fit.
Following complaints for its February banning of Ryan Anderson’s 2018 bestselling book When Harry Became Sally: Responding to the Transgender Moment, for instance, Amazon dug in its heels.
In a letter signed by Vice President Brian Huseman, Amazon said it offers “customers across the political spectrum a wide variety of content that includes disparate opinions” but that “we reserve the right not to sell certain content.”
In this case, Amazon chose to censor “disparate opinions” regarding the nature of gender dysphoria, which refers to the psychological distress experienced by those who do not feel comfortable with their biological sex.
Similar complaints of censorship have been lodged repeatedly against Facebook, Instagram, Google, YouTube and other tech platforms but resolution has not been reached.
“While we’re transparent about our policies, we understand that people can still be frustrated by our decisions, which is why we’re committing to doing more,” said Facebook spokeswoman, Emily Cain, according to Wednesday’s Journal article.