Facebook automates suppression of freedom of speech?

A fascinating reflection by Chris Peterson on the on-off-on-off blocking by Facebook of “citizen activist” website J30Strike.org over the past 48 hours.

I think Chris probably has it right – there’s no need for conspiracy theories, one merely has to look at how the propagated effects of automated blocking systems tend to suppress ‘controversial’ content, opinion and commentary to see what has happened here.

But this begs some very big questions…

Facebook wields incredible power: one might even argue that – by virtue of its size, penetration and quite evident (designed) ability to apply social pressure – it is forging a new form of ‘social contract’. It is therefore hypocrisy of the highest order for for it and its principals on the one hand to claim ‘people sharing stuff’ as an indisputable good (insofar as that serves their business model) and on the other to build and maintain systems that restrain/constrict/block ‘people sharing stuff’ that is not only entirely legal, but part of civil society organising itself – one of the fundamental underpinnings of democracy.

Wake up, people! Zuckerberg and his pals are doing exactly what the UK Home Office under Blair, Blunkett and Brown attempted to do with the UK ID scheme – i.e. despite all protests to the contrary, they are building the tools of totalitarianism. In fact, I contend that Facebook is not what it purports to be. To all intents and purposes, and far from being a ‘cuddly’ social ‘toy’, it is positioning itself to become a the global identity authority.

Ignore the hype.

Take another look.

Join the dots…

Get the picture?

Zuckerberg is no more Hitler than Blair was – click “See the advert here” link for picture. But he’s far less ignorant of technology and its effects and, by that same degree, more culpable. That he’s making billions doing it (anyone saying “Get over yourself, FB is just a private company” is either wilfully ignorant or a berk) neither excuses him, nor makes it right – though it does make him a heck of a lot more influential…

If Facebook wishes to be part of society – and I submit that something calling itself ‘a social network’ probably does – then it needs to act responsibly. And it needs to start NOW.

At present, FB appears to be sliding more and more rapidly down the slippery slope of authoritarianism. It acts increasingly arbitrarily in its own self interest and in the process seems perfectly happy to ride roughshod over individuals and individual rights. Its smug self-justifications grow ever more shrill and less palatable: “Privacy… get over it!”? Hmmm… Might that just have something to do with the growing exodus?

And now, with its latest few moves – some of which are clearly intentional – it appears to be mounting a series of assaults on fundamentals of free society: privacy… freedom of speech… freedom of association, even.

You are perfectly entitled to think I am overstating the case*. I’m sure Mr Zuckerberg, his buddies and his shareholders would love you to think so. (And preferably to spread your ‘anticontroversial’ opinion over the nice shiny cage network echo chamber they have built for you…) But I’m just expressing an opinion. A strong one. One highly critical of a company and a bunch of people who I consider to represent a serious threat to values I personally – and many others – care about and have spent time fighting for. An opinion I shall continue to post/link about inside Facebook… until or unless it gets blocked.

Which – were it to ever happen, and I’m not saying it will any time soon – might somewhat prove my point, don’t you think?

[N.B. Don’t be fooled by the ‘halo effect’ of the Arab Spring. Just because some of the social networking tools were used to facilitate self-organisation within oppressive regimes does not mean they (the tools) are a necessary or absolute good. Indeed, any positive effects may turn out to be entirely relative – history shows us you only have to be a bit less authoritarian to look like a saviour, at the time. Over time, and certainly as governments and dictators catch up – which they are doing fast – what may have helped overthrow one bad lot will simply (but maybe more subtly) help the next bad lot impose their version and vision of control.]

*I am, of course, being deliberately inflammatory in some of my statements and allusions. This is merely to emphasise my point, and maybe catch a few more people’s attention…

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