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Under the Garb of Removing Hate and Fake News, What All is Facebook Going to Censor?

Can this social media platform remain neutral towards all views and opinions?
facebook censorship

Facebook’s latest attempt to clamp down on the fake news epidemic is a two question survey. The results of the survey will be used to determine the “trustworthiness” of online news publishers. This is facing a lot of heat from media outlets and journalists, criticising it for over-simplifying matters, and being subject to manipulation. Another reason why this is raising suspicions is because of Facebook’s attempts at censorship of minority views, such as removing widely followed Palestinian news pages and accounts of activists and journalists.

The survey asks users to answer two questions:

  1. Do you recognise the following website? Yes or No 
  2. How much do you trust each of these domains? Entirely, A Lot, Somewhat, Barely, Not at all.

These questions are raising doubts about the efficacy of the survey and the impact it could have on alternate media outlets which are not a part of corporate, mainstream news sources. Majority of users can be expected to upvote traditional media outlets which have been around for longer, while giving lower ratings to news sources which express alternative views and might be restricted to online mediums. If this happens, the reach of alternative sources will be reduced further.  

This comes at a time when it is becoming widely known that the social media giant is suppressing minority views by blocking Palestinian accounts and pages on the pretext of reducing hateful posts.  While accounts of Palestinian activists and journalists are being suspended, little to no action is being taken on Israeli users frequently calling for violence against Palestinians.   

Most of these suspensions are happening at the behest of the Israeli government. After a meeting between Israeli government and Facebook representatives in September of 2016, the government started submitting requests to Facebook for removal of various posts. Facebook complied with 95% of these requests, effectively aiding the Israeli government in censorship and control of Palestinian communication. 

Apoorva Gautam from Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS), a global movement working towards pressuring Israel to end its occupation of Palestine, said that while this is condemnable, it does not come as a surprise. “We're not surprised by this move. BDS condemns Facebook's complicity with Israel's attack on the supporters of Palestinian struggle. In this instance, Israel is not just attacking rights of Palestinians, but the freedom of expression of people across the world who are in support of Palestinian rights,” she said.

In the case of the two question survey, concerns over manipulation of the results need to be considered carefully. In India, BJP’s troll army is always hard at work, attempting to shift social media trends and spin all negative policy feedback into positive hashtags. The possibility of this army being put to work to give lower trust votes to news outlets which criticise the ruling party is quite high. 

Facebook has denied these concerns, and made statements defending the survey. "We randomly sample new people each day, and only their responses are used. I'm sure some bad actors will try and game the system, but it's not as easy as you suggest," said Adam Mosseri, head of Facebook’s News Feed, in a tweet.  

But the question remains if this could result in curbing of dissenting views. 

A couple of days ago, reports emerged of ex-White House cyber security expert, Nathaniel Gleicher, joining Facebook for regulation of hate posts and fake news. This is another example of direct involvement of a powerful government in determining what is and is not hate. Can this social media platform then remain neutral towards all views and opinions?

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