This article was contributed to The Thinker’s Right by Staff Writer E.
Like many people today, I earn my income almost entirely through the digital world. If it wasn’t for the internet, I’d probably be digging a ditch somewhere for minimum wage. I am extremely thankful to be born into an era where a career like this is possible, but at the same time, I’m growing increasingly worried about where the future of online content is heading.
If you haven’t been living on Mars for the last few years, you know that Facebook has been cracking down on all kinds of different content. It seems like every day, a new page or public figure is banned from the online platform. Sometimes it’s because they’re expressing right wing views. Sometimes, it’s seemingly for no reason at all.
Facebook is a private company, and some would argue that as such, they’re free to do whatever they want with their product. From a Libertarian perspective, this certainly makes sense at face value. But the line is becoming increasingly blurred. When do we put our foot down? The reality is that Facebook is more than just a company, and they’re providing more than just a “product.” Indeed, in many third world countries, vast swathes of the population believe that Facebook is the internet. Perhaps in 2018, they’re not too far from the truth. Social media platforms like Facebook have enormous influence over the global population. Mark Zuckerberg is in a perfect position to sway the opinions of the masses, and in a sense, control their minds by deciding what information they can and can’t consume.
Regardless of what your political stance is on this issue, there are some basic truths that cannot be denied. We’re not talking about some tin-foil hat conspiracy where “Zuckerborg” is a CIA-controlled cyborg. We’re talking about Facebook’s admitted scandals where they’ve been caught selling data to third parties, pushing certain political opinions, and all kinds of other worrying activities.
Because of these scandals involving things like Cambridge Analytica, Facebook has desperately been trying to clean up its image, releasing apologetic statements vowing never to make the same mistakes. Their stock plummeted, Zuckerberg went before congress, and things didn’t look good for the massive company. But in the end, like so many other corrupt, elitist “mistakes,” it wasn’t Zuckerberg or Facebook who really suffered.
Instead, the people who took the full brunt of Facebook’s mistakes were innocent people and organizations who were exercising their freedom of speech.
Those who aren’t creating content online probably have no idea just how crucial Facebook is for promotion. If Facebook blocks or “unpromotes” your posts, your pageviews sink like the Titanic. Trust me, I know. Prior to Facebook’s new policy changes, I was getting millions of views on my articles each month. Nowadays, I’m lucky to get 100,000. I’m not in charge of promoting these articles. I don’t know if we’re being “shadowbanned” or simply removed from the platform. But the effects are being felt in a very real way. The companies that I currently work for are struggling to stay afloat in this new digital climate, although we’re doing everything we can to jump through Facebook’s many hoops.
Other companies weren’t so lucky. Sites like LittleThings were forced to shut down because they simply could not reach their audience. It’s worth pointing out that these companies aren’t in the least bit political. The majority of these websites feature mindless “listicles” based on celebrity gossip, movies, and children’s cartoons. Hardworking writers who are just trying to make an honest living are losing their jobs because Facebook abused the trust of their customers.
Recently, one of the sites I work for has asked us to install a Chrome extension that scans our articles for certain words that trigger Facebook’s bots, causing our articles to get blocked. If this isn’t the sign of an Orwellian state, I don’t know what is. As I write, some of my words are literally highlighted in red or yellow. The highlighted words are wrongspeak. These types of words are not allowed. We’re probably not the only company who is doing this, and the articles you’re reading today might have been washed of these “undesirable” words long before they’re approved to be published.
You might expect some of these words to include curses, racist slang, or other content that would be unsuitable for children to read. If that were the case, then Facebook’s policies would be understandable. But that’s not what’s happening here. I was given a list by my editor of words that I should screen my articles for, and these words might surprise you. I was certainly taken aback by them.
The list of banned words includes: dirt, cheat, intimate, abhorrent, atrocious, cringe, cruel, fail, garbage, and other “negative” words. As a result, our articles have become almost comically positive. When you only have very bland words to describe terrible things in life, the world becomes a plastic, fake, Disney dream world where everyone has a forced smile on their face, and discussion of anything that could be deemed as a real problem is considered a social taboo. The implications for this are again Orwellian, and this could result in a distortion of reality in the digital world.
But there are much more surprising words on this list. Others include: American, British, Canadian, Russian, Chinese, Mexican, and other words of various nationalities. Why on Earth would Facebook be screening articles for these words? Is their policy to completely erase even the possibility of a true political discussion? Or is Facebook’s policy opposed to the very concept of a nation state? We can only wonder.
The list goes on. Some of the more notable words on this blacklist include: Holocaust, Nazi, Trump, Justin Trudeau, Facebook, Instagram, Mark Zuckerberg, and even people like Meghan Markle and Arnold Schwarzenegger.
Judging by these words, it’s clear that Facebook is blocking content that even talks about Trump. This is huge. Other political figures get similar treatment, such as Justin Trudeau, and strangely enough, Schwarzenegger also makes the list.
Make of this what you will. I’m not exactly sure of what it all means, but I do know that I find it disturbing. This is something that feels completely wrong as I write these censored articles. It’s like living in a dictatorship, where journalists and free-thinkers must be careful of what they say. Obviously, the gestapo isn’t going to come to my door and arrest me because I use a forbidden word on the internet. But one could argue that this is already happening in places like Britain. Is Canada next?
Perhaps the most disturbing thing is that Facebook apparently doesn’t like people mentioning the platform itself, or their leader, Mark Zuckerberg. This is a company that bans not only the criticism of itself, but even the mere mention of its name or leader. This is beginning to sound a lot like a dictatorship, isn’t it?
Maybe I’m overreacting. Maybe our company is in a unique position, and we’re being treated differently than everyone else on the internet. Perhaps our editors are simply guessing what types of words might trigger Facebook’s mindless, determined bots. I don’t know the full story, and I’m not an expert on how Facebook’s policies work.
But I am someone who’s experiencing the effects of these disturbing changes, and I’m probably closer to the issue than a lot our readers. The least I can do is speak out, and let my voice be heard. Because pretty soon, I might no longer have the opportunity.
-Staff Writer E.
Support The Thinker’s Right
Your donations help The Thinker’s Right bring you original, bold and thought-provoking independent commentary. Funds go towards covering operating costs and paying staff writers. If you value the work we do, please consider helping us do it. You can also subscribe to us on Patreon (see link in top menu)