Updated: Feb 18, 2021
As seen in Human Events
It started shortly after the Christchurch shooting.
In a haphazard attempt to distance itself from the Australian gunman who’d livestreamed a shooting on their platform, Facebook scrambled to purge itself of Australian accounts and pages that it deemed too closely affiliated with the “far right”.
That meant anyone with even a single right-wing political viewpoint, including those of us who work in politics or who frequently use social media for journalism.
Facebook targeted my professional page in its crackdown and took away the ability for users to share my posts. Facebook took it a step further banning my website and justified their censorship with the all too common and intentionally non-specific, “it goes against our community guidelines”. Or, perhaps, less ambiguously: “we don’t like you, but don’t want to take the time to consider, articulate, or justify exactly why, so we’ll just block you instead”.
I mistakenly thought it would end there. Left with a crippled social media page and a looming full suspension I was grateful I wasn’t entirely erased from the platform.
However, last week, I woke to a string of messages from a friend on Twitter. My Instagram account had all but disappeared overnight.
She thought I’d been banned. I would have thought so too, had it not been for the fact I could still access my account. More people asked me why my account was removed, why I’d disappeared off the platform. Others asked why they couldn’t even search for my profile and why there were no results when they did.
Screenshots poured in of my invisible account. My usually high engagement was non-existent. I realized this wasn’t isolated. It wasn’t a glitch. My Facebook punishment had finally spilled over to Instagram.
Make no mistake, for me my account was still there. It just didn’t exist for anyone else.
There is a sense of frustration and despondence that accompanies watching your social media disappear overnight. Few people who don’t use social media for work will understand the feeling. There’s little you can do and social media giants won’t let you forget it.
An all-out ban gives a person the opportunity to appeal the decision, regardless if there is any success in that process – albeit with little to no chance of disputing the accusation.
Disappearing your account is a different animal entirely.
You can’t say you’re banned. Equally you can’t say you are not banned. You’re not censored, you’re muzzled. And you can continue to post all you like – but to no audience.
With all the heat and light directed at Big Tech over their alleged censorship of conservatives, this begs the question: is this the new way of doing things?
The truth is that there’s no longer a question mark over the possibility that these occurrences are simply a “bug” or a “system glitch”. The constant and ongoing censorship and online punishment for conservatives makes that prospect less and less likely.
If you’re conservative and find yourself censored in any way – it’s more than likely deliberate. For me, this isn’t a question. It is a fact.
While many of us rely on anecdotes to illustrate the ongoing media censorship, it isn’t surprising to discover discrepancies in the treatment of liberals and conservatives online.
In truth, you need only look at prominent liberal voices, such as Kathy Griffin, to see the patent disparity. Earlier this year, the comedienne asked that her Twitter followers doxx the boys involved in the Covington High School debacle. In spite of this going well against Twitter’s community guidelines, Griffin received no punishment.
Similarly, New York Times writer Sarah Jeong was spared the fall into social media obscurity when a series of her racist tweets came to light in late 2018.
Let’s be clear, conservatives have been banned for less.
And many Americans support this view. A survey by the Pew Research Center in 2018 confirmed that some 72 percent of Americans believe that Big-Tech platforms censor political views with which they disagree.
Compounding this with testimony from social media employees themselves, who have admitted to shadow-banning and actively censoring right-wing voices, the case is damning.
To my mind, social media is essential to sharing information and the functionality of journalism. The majority of people who work in politics – whether as a commentator, a journalist, a personality – will argue that social media plays a primary role in what they do.
Social media is, for many, the primary source for sharing and receiving news and current affairs, or even extending a social hand to people operating in the same space. The discussion and discourse that was once reserved for the public sphere, through face-to-face interactions, now largely takes place online.
While Facebook, Instagram and other social platforms likely started with the purpose of connecting people in a familial sense, their role has changed over time. In the last number of years, Facebook has been dominated by news and current affairs. Twitter is almost exclusively used for politics, journalism and media. Instagram still maintains its original purpose as a photographic platform of food, puppies and muscular people on beaches, but it is also changing. Political accounts – on both the left and the right – appear daily, posting memes, headlines and news.
This change was inevitable.
As old, traditional avenues of news and journalism exit-stage-right, new media has stepped in to take its place.
But, we would never have allowed newspapers or television stations blocking conservatives from accessing their services. So, why do we stand back while social media platforms do just that?
The only problem with these new information sharing mediums is that where once you had the opportunity to discuss, object, debate, and argue over the direction of society or the topics of the day, you now have systems of censorship controlled by massive monopolies. Make no mistake, these monopolies have their own political agendas, intent on moderating your speech, and through this, your thought. Or so they presume.
By now, censorship by Big-Tech is old news. It happens daily, to accounts big and small, on every social media platform. While I expected I would eventually say something that the powers that be did not approve of, I didn’t expect to be de-platformed in such an insidious way.
The eminent author George Orwell once warned us, in his novel ‘1984’, of the dangers posed by authoritarianism of thought crimes and of a massive surveillance apparatus directed by a small group of elites intent on controlling the opinions and speech of the masses. 1984 is creeping up on us at an alarming rate.
We must now decide how these titanic tech monopolies behave in the world, or else one day, very soon, they may decide how we behave instead.