When Facebook Controls the Content

by Matt Klassen on April 20, 2016

Facebook-Mind-VirusWe already know that Facebook has run psychological experiments to determine how altering people’s social news feeds impacts their moods, interests, and outlooks on life, offering a brief glimpse of the power that the social network wields. Now with Facebook attempting to control content through hosting news, and assuming the role of ethical watchdog regarding censoring such content, we seem to be hurdling towards a time when Facebook will simply tell us what to think, and we’ll fall in line because that’s all we’ll know.

In fact, we’re so far along the path towards Facebook domination that we’ve already seen the social network curb reasoned dissent with cultural norms (in particular, reported cases of Facebook censoring religious groups from posting their views on issues such as same-sex marriage), and analysts are starting to wonder just what impact the network might have on the 2016 Presidential elections.

Now of course Facebook has the right to host or delete any content that it wants, it’s not a bipartisan news agency, it’s not a public service, it’s a business interested in making money, and thus it can operate that business any (legal) way it sees fit. The only problem, of course, is that in reality Facebook is so much more than a business; for many users it’s become a way of life, one that can easily influence our thoughts and actions in a variety of troubling ways.

Although but one example, a case emerged this week in Australia where Facebook was been accused of censoring part of the ongoing debate in that country regarding same-sex marriages, where one man had a post deleted when he suggested that rhetoric on both sides of the debate, including the language used by proponents of same-sex marriage, contributed to the marginalization of the LGBT community.

Think what you will of the opinion itself, by all accounts the ongoing Facebook debate was reasoned and civil, yet because the opinion expressed ran counter to Facebook’s own social agenda, it was deemed unacceptable and removed.

Now granted Facebook has done a quick about-face on this issue, and has returned the post in question, but it points to a disturbing trend that I think we’ll only see increase, Facebook’s attempt at moderating information.

At first glance moderation is a necessary and useful thing, everyone who hosts any sort of public interaction (comment boards, blogs etc…) has to moderate the content, lest it become a vehicle for baseless and often hate-filled name calling. But while a moderator holds some influence over crafting public reaction to a certain web page or blog post, Facebook holds a massive amount of power to craft our thoughts and ideas around practically every facet of our lives, since every facet is now shared, hosted, or posted on the social network.

Consider now that there are those who are appealing to Facebook to influence the thoughts of potential voters against Republican Presidential candidate Donald Trump, and while for many that may seem like a worthy endeavour, it’s scary to think about just how possible it is for Facebook to do that, and the ramifications for our world if it did.

And what makes Facebook qualified to choose our leaders, or decide our ethical debates, or determine what’s newsworthy, or even to shape our society? Well of course that’s the problem posed here, for absolutely nothing makes the social network qualified to yield such power.

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Written by: Matt Klassen. www.digitcom.ca. Follow TheTelecomBlog.com by: RSS, Twitter, Facebook, or YouTube.

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