Facebook's anonymous censors take down Latin America's Telesur, and nothing can stop them
When Telesur's page was first taken down in January this year, no explanation was given then either. 'Kafkaesque' is an overused phrase, but here it is absolutely valid. Telesur is being punished, yet no one will actually tell them why. Here is a description of Kafka's The Trial: "it tells the story of Josef K., a man arrested and prosecuted by a remote, inaccessible authority, with the nature of his crime revealed neither to him nor to the reader." Sound familiar?
So, here is what Facebook (or the unthinking AI whose job it is to fill in the gaps of a standardised message and send it out) actually told Telesur:
So, the immediate question would be who decides what is hateful, threatening or obscene? In the age of the social warrior there is very little which isn't regarded as obscene or hateful by someone. I'm pretty sure someone out there thinks cat videos are simply the latest stage of the patriarchal exploitation of our feline friends who have already suffered a loss of agency from the degradation and sexual exploitation of the term pussy. But let me tell you now, Facebook is not going to be banning cat videos anytime soon.
So, why Telesur? Well this comes off the back of Infowars and Alex Jones finding themselves de-platformed by a whole raft of social media platforms including Facebook. At first glance, there doesn't seem to be a whole lot in common between the two. Telesur is a media organisation, Alex Jones is a conspiracy theorist. One comes from the left, and one comes from the right; but that is exactly the point. Neither of them are regarded as mainstream, so are in the firing line. Thinking differently to the mainstream legacy media outlets is going to make you no friends at the likes of Facebook.
As Telesur itself said in a statement: "this is an alarming development in light of the recent shutting down of pages that don't fit a mainstream narrative."
It's wonderful that a handful of private tech officials can arbitrarily banish anyone they want from the internet. Precedents enshrining this principle should definitely be cheered without reservation https://t.co/IcewEUkTLu— Michael Tracey (@mtracey) August 14, 2018
It's also telling that when Facebook decided it did need to do something to deal with what is labelled 'fake news' it partnered up with the Digital Forensic Lab, an offshoot of the Atlantic Council, a neo-liberal think tank set up in 1961 to promote Western ideology around the world. In more simple terms, it is NATO's lobbying organization and it goes about its work very aggressively.
So, what does that make Facebook? It is a social media platform that is global, it has billions of users in every country in the world, and it is starting to refine what people are allowed to be exposed to, to fit it into the same old mainstream narrative, and it is able to operate completely unchecked.
I personally don't want to defend Alex Jones, and Telesur is not my first port of call when it comes to getting news, but censorship takes on a life of its own, it has unpredictable consequences, and it presupposes that a chosen side has a monopoly on truth. Governments will do what they can to further their interests, but Facebook was supposed to provide a platform for people to communicate freely.
Running the current model of Facebook is every crooked politician's dream. There are no term limits, no elections and no demand for them either, yet at the very same time the power the platform holds is wide-ranging and knows no international borders. It is no exaggeration to say that Facebook has the power to control huge swathes of what the global population reads or thinks.
The irony of the situation surrounding Facebook currently, is there are literally people and governments begging for Zuckerberg's social media giant to act as a censor. To repeat, governments want Facebook to do their censoring for them. To make it even more specific, there is one particular government that wants Facebook to start censoring, and it's located in the land of the free.
How far down this rabbit can you go? Well a senior Facebook executive has reportedly told Australian media organisations that if they didn't cooperate with the social network, their businesses would die. Facebook has a lot of power, and it's starting to use it.
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