Why censorship on Facebook matters

If Facebook is the new town hall, its censorship is really troubling:

Facebook is increasingly the space within which people receive their information, including civic information. Shared newspaper links, blog posts, and conversations in the comments may not intuitively accrue as much respect as the Federalist Papers, but they are at least as important in the public discourse as the proverbial crier on the common was generations ago.

But where once there was a town common, there is now a walled garden, and the architecture of this enclosure threatens to throttle the pamphleteer before he so much as primes his printing press.

Assume the best of intentions on the part of Facebook for a moment. Look at what still happened.

A site advocating citizen activism vanishes from the face of Facebook. Then, alternate routes – the redirects – are shut down. After crushing the conversation, Facebook then successfully silenced the metaconversation – that is, posts like mine, commenting on the controversy, which merely linked to the content. Users had to resort to guerilla tactics – coded, deceptive transformations of the domain name – in order to spread the word slowly amongst the community.

Think about that for a moment. Think about the incredible, suffocating centralized power the Facebook filter represents to controversial opinions. Had this been in a traditionally public forum, banning truly offensive or abusive material would have had to survive the strict scrutiny of a skeptical judge. But on Facebook – merely a mediated public – presumably a few reports were enough to simply disappear (used as verb; gulag connotations intended) an entire movement.


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