Controversy continues to swirl around Facebook as it appears the social media network is persisting in its censorship of conservative posts and messages.
As reported earlier this year, Facebook’s “Trending Topics” news team has been accused of applying curatorial guidelines and algorithms that favored liberal and progressive news networks and stories, effectively censoring or stifling reports from conservative outlets, such as Breitbart News, Drudge Report, Infowars and other sources.
Now, the world’s most popular website has been charged with blocking liberal- or progressive-unfriendly memes — virally promoted pictures superimposed with messages that users generate on websites and smartphone apps.
One particular source of memes with a conservative slant, Liberty Memes, has over 100,000 followers on Facebook. Recently, it had some of its images removed or blocked by Facebook because, in the words of the social media goliath, they didn’t “follow the Facebook community standards.”
What sorts of memes has the group had blocked or removed? One recent target was an image making fun of Hillary Clinton’s email scandal and the FBI’s decision not to recommend her indictment to the Justice Department after their recent investigation of the former secretary of state.
The meme had received more than 50,000 “Shares” on Facebook and 10,000 “Likes,” generating 4 million views before the network removed it from the group’s page for supposedly violating the site’s standards. The image is of a smug-looking Clinton staring arrogantly at the viewer, with the words, “Silly Americans — Laws Are For Poor People” superimposed over it.
The idea that an image such as this — which is not making any specific claim or implying a specific action — should be removed from public view appears to be a clear-cut case of censorship, by any definition given by experts or schools of journalistic standards.
Typically, the bar for discouraging such material is if there’s a risk of libel charges related to the message being presented; a media source could reasonably refuse to publish such an image if there was such a possibility. But the very idea of a meme is to associate a thought with imagery in order to promote a different — and greater — message.
Memes are not typically direct quotes or intended to appear as such; as a technology-related Internet business, Facebook, of all companies, should be aware of this. A clear precedent in this case would be political cartoons, which have a long and rich tradition. They’ve been protected under free speech laws as satire (and are deservedly celebrated for their wit).
A meme is essentially a high-tech cartoon. In this case, the wording laid over the imagery is extremely vague and nonspecific; there are no quotation marks, and in the picture, Clinton’s mouth is closed — there’s no confusion that this might have been a direct quote.
The idea of the meme is to imply that Clinton was thinking the words, but you can’t sue someone for libel based on their accusing someone of thinking.
In the wake of Facebook’s action, Liberty Memes released a screenshot showing the alert it received from the company regarding the image, reading simply, “We Removed Something Your Page Posted.”
It doesn’t offer a reason or any other information specific to this case. The group claims that this is far from the first instance of Facebook blocking or removing materials from its page that the company didn’t like.
One of Liberty Memes’ managers claimed, “Our page has two admins, and both of our accounts are currently on suspensions of varied duration… I’m currently on my second 30-day ban from my Facebook account.”
In response to a query, the same manager said he believes Facebook removes offending memes as soon as they receive more than 10 million views in a week.
In particular, memes critical of Hillary Clinton have been removed from Liberty Memes’ page often, even when those memes have been equally critical of GOP presidential nominee Donald Trump.
For instance, an image showing a black-and-white photograph of a child attempting to stick a knife into an electrical socket, superimposed with the words “Trump or Hillary? — Top Socket or Bottom Socket?”, was also removed.
Given the immense popularity of Facebook and its incredibly strong influence, it appears that more Internet standards regulation — of the same type that’s been exercised on television and radio broadcasters for decades — may need to be implemented by a body such as the Federal Communications Commission (FCC).
This is especially in light of the fact that “Internet is the new television,” as media pundits have suggested. A study by nonprofit organization Common Sense Media showed that the average young person in America now spends as much as nine hours per day interacting with computers, tablets and smartphones.
Of those hours, approximately 60 percent are spent viewing a mere 10 websites or less, according to another study. And out of that small number of sites, Facebook is nearly guaranteed to be in the top three and most likely to be number one in terms of hours and minutes spent.
In fact, as the Pew Research Center has written, more Americans now get their news from social media networks, and in particular, Facebook, than from traditional news sources such as newspapers, radio or television.
This means that the opinions and biases of what people read, see and hear are now coming more from Silicon Valley — which as a bloc donates more to Democratic and liberal causes than almost any other industry — than from traditional broadcasting or publishing companies.
This especially points to the urgency of applying more control to messaging being promoted and broadcast on these new media networks, due to their influence — especially on young people.
With all this in mind, it’s high time that citizens write to their Congressional representatives and to organizations such as the FCC in order to demand greater scrutiny of Silicon Valley, especially for those companies whose media and messages take up an increasing mindshare in the average American.
Just because social media is new doesn’t mean it should follow standards that are any different from those set for media types of old.