Op-ed views and opinions expressed are solely those of the author.
The dangerous consequence of social media’s power over public opinion was articulated by Canadian psychologist Jordan Peterson when he was banned by Twitter without explanation and his appeal was ignored. The social media site, Peterson said in a message to Twitter CEO Parag Agrawal, is guilty of “warping and dementing the entire domain of public discourse.”
Peterson’s statement really hit home when Facebook informed me this week that my page has been disabled. “Your account was disabled because we determined that you are ineligible to use Facebook,” they told me. With no regard either for me or for the thousands of Facebook users who follow my page, the strident message I received accused me of violating Facebook’s “community standards.”
“For more information about our policies, please review the Facebook Terms,” the message added. “If you think your account was disabled by mistake, please contact us.” No mention was made of which standard or standards I was alleged to have violated. When I looked them up, I discovered to my chagrin that Facebook’s standards are vague to the point of being indecipherable.
As they suggested, I contacted them and requested a review. I was then informed that they are under no obligation to review my case if they are too busy. After 30 days, “your account will be permanently disabled and you won’t be able to disagree again.”
There was a fleeting mention of the possibility that I had been outed for something or other to do with intellectual property, but I can’t find any reference to that message and I am wondering if it was a figment of my imagination. What I did not imagine was that my banning occurred less than one week after BizPacReview published my article criticizing Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg. [“Facebook—not the FBI—Is to blame for blocking the Hunter Biden laptop story,” BizPacReview, Sept. 3, 2022]
Merely a coincidence? I sincerely doubt it. The timing of my banishment was referenced in Jordan Peterson’s rant. Twitter, said Peterson, lacks the “moral standing to render arbitrary judgment on the behavior of others you deem inappropriate who also by coincidence don’t happen to share your progressive political views.” There lies the rub. Facebook, Twitter, and other social media sites have taken it upon themselves to act as arbiters of political opinion. They feel free to censor any and all postings that contradict their leftist ideology. My criticism of Zuckerberg was a capital offense.
My friends are as irate as I am in response to Facebook’s Stalinist approach to censorship. “Do it our way or off to the Lubyanka.” Let’s face it, Facebook’s behavior is un-American. Actually, it reminds me of the January 6th committee hearings: only limited facts are allowed, no chance to confront accusers, no cross-examination, no rebuttal, no due process. Its power affects what Peterson calls “the entire domain of public discourse.” For example, according to a new poll by Technometrica, nearly four out of five Americans believe that the blocking by social media of the Hunter Biden laptop story—two weeks prior to the 2020 presidential election—pushed the scales in Joe Biden’s favor. Blocking the story prevented the re-election of Donald Trump. This calls to attention the need to limit social media’s ability to influence American voters.
“The truth is now obvious,” Matthew Oulton wrote in The Boar, “social media companies have become incredibly powerful. Facebook has more citizens than any nation on earth, it commands enormous media power. Social media companies and tech giants have accumulated state-like influence. It’s natural that firms will have their own political interests,” Oulton says, “but it’s wrong that they should ever have enough power to try to force a government to change their stance. Government regulates companies; companies should not be trying to regulate governments.”
Wait a minute. Perhaps Facebook just did me a favor. Maybe my day-to-day existence will be better off if I don’t waste my time posting on their site. Social media represents a national mental health problem. According to Google, “Studies show that people who spend a significant amount of time on social media experience increased anxiety and decreased self-esteem. Social media use can also negatively affect teens, distracting them, disrupting their sleep, and exposing them to bullying, rumor spreading, unrealistic views of other people’s lives and peer pressure.”
Millions rely on Facebook and Twitter to communicate their thoughts and feelings. If social media gets to determine who says what, our public discourse is in a world of hurt. Sites like Facebook and Twitter discourage face-to-face communication while encouraging cancel culture and public shaming.
“Efforts to police speech on social media are spreading across the country,” Rebecca Kern reports in Politico, with 34 states voting on bills to curb social media influence. Courts have been reluctant to approve these bills on First Amendment grounds that government should not be telling private companies what speech they should or should not publish.
“The First Amendment only protects individuals’ speech from U.S. governmental oppression,” wrote Dipayan Ghosh in the Harvard Business Review. “There is nothing illegal about a private firm censoring people on its platform. But still, even if it’s not a legal issue with respect to the First Amendment, the question of when and how it’s appropriate for private companies to ‘de-platform’ people—especially notable public figures like Trump—is not so obvious. Many Americans have suggested that freedom of speech aside, these actions clearly illustrate the inherent bias they feel mainstream media holds against conservative voices. There are no easy answers—but recent events have shown that one way or another, the status quo cannot persist.”
Some in Congress have suggested using antitrust law to limit the power of social media companies. “It is possible that the Facebook and Google antitrust lawsuits could reduce the companies’ control over the content we access,” wrote Bill Baer and Caitlin Chin at brookings.edu. “For example, if these lawsuits result in a breakup of either company, they could create a more competitive environment with a broader disbursement of power over political information.” But there is a strong difference of opinion over the application of anti-trust to social media.
Having been unfairly targeted by social media censorship, I am aligned with those who advocate that something must be done. Granting that much power to a handful of left-wing billionaires can have tragic consequences for the republic.
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