The Internet’s war on free speech, by Brendan O’Neill. Facebook and Twitter are deceiving us:
This week it was revealed that Facebook has been suppressing news stories from conservative sources. Facebook, used by 1.6 billion people, bigs itself up as a neutral distributor of news and facilitator of global chat. Yet, according to a former editor there, popular conservative stories are often kept off Facebook’s trending bar, either because the curator ‘didn’t recognise the news topic’ or ‘they had a bias’.
People log on to Facebook imagining that the stories they see are chosen by user ‘likes’, rather than by editors who decide what us web plebs should and shouldn’t know. In truth, this stuff is curated for us by our moral betters in Silicon Valley, who dish up decent liberal stories that might enlighten our mushy minds while hiding weird conservative news that might turn us Obama-phobic or funny about immigration. …
Twitter, too, polices its users’ chat. It once described itself as ‘the free-speech wing of the free-speech party’; now it has its own Trust and Safety Council, stuffed with NGO people and feminists who aim to make it more ‘pleasant’. This isn’t about banning morons who make death threats; it’s about morally managing the conversation. In the words of Twitter’s British head of policy, Nick Pickles, the web has helped to make ‘challenging, even upsetting viewpoints… more visible’ in a way that is ‘not always comfortable’. So Twitter must think up ways of ‘drowning out’ uncomfortable viewpoints.
This was inevitable as the Internet’s growth made it politically relevant, as the power of the mainstream media waned:
We’re witnessing a massive shift in the whole idea of the internet; from an open platform for the discussion of ideas to something that must be moderated and editorialised.
Facebook is now effectively the biggest public square in history; if we don’t have free speech there, we have a problem. … A full seventh of humanity uses Facebook. This gives it historically unprecedented clout. Facebook has more power to shape the agenda than any media mogul, pope or king in history. He who controls Facebook’s trending bar controls the present. Being turfed off the site for saying stuff its bosses don’t like seriously degrades your ability to be an engaged public person.
The West is increasingly aping China:
When the Chinese erected their Great Firewall online in 1997, Europeans scoffed. The internet was unpoliceable, they said; the wall would fall. Instead, we’re copying the Chinese approach. China’s Internet Surveillance Division has two cartoon police characters which warn web users to avoid posting ‘sensitive’ or ‘harmful’ material online; British cops now do the same.
hat-tip Stephen Neil