“Fact Checkers” in Social Media Giants – Do they have your best interests at heart?

It has come to our attention that there are some people who have fallen victim to the removal, blocking or deletion of their social media posts.

As Facebook now owns Twitter and Instagram, the reach of these platforms under one privately owned. social media conglomerate is unprecedented. In the past, Facebook has openly shared and promoted political activism as a way for its users to connect with each other. To take this one step further, Facebook has even undertaken initiatives in the past to encourage political activity online.

However, it seems that Facebook, Instagram & Twitter in recent months has gone a step further with their involvement in the activism realm. As part of its compliance with US law, a spokesperson from Facebook said that:

“the company removes accounts run by or on behalf of sanctioned people and organizations. It also removes posts that commend the actions of sanctioned parties and individuals and seek to help further their actions, the spokesperson said, adding that Facebook has an appeals process if users feel their posts were removed in error.”

The concern with this is that there is no guidance or information provided on these grounds for entirely removing posts from its users. Who determines whether an individual or organisation is sanctioned? Is Facebook impeding on users right to freedom of speech, association and expression?

As of 2020, Facebook has integrated “fact-checkers” to their platform who either remove, flag or report your posts to the Facebook team. As many would believe, fact checkers removing or reporting false content would be a good thing, right? However, we do not see the qualifications, experience or even the name/body behind the “fact-checking” of posts regarding political activism. Could it be the case that Facebook has the ability to hire “fact checkers” and moderation teams they approve and are allowed to instruct what is acceptable or not, as Facebook/Twitter are a private organisation in the sense that their decisions are internal. Therefore, can we actually believe that these “fact-checkers” have our best interests in heart, or are they merely a pawn in the political game that Facebook is a part of. Facebook, Twitter and Instagram are all powerful tools that allow for the movement of ideologies, but it would be naive to believe that Facebook does not have its own political/ideological stances and may utilise these “fact-checkers” to help enforce these stances.

The most well-known example of these “fact-checkers” was during the 2020 US election, where is was reported that many pages, groups and individuals that affiliated or promoted the Trump administration had their posts/tweets removed and even their accounts suspended/deactivated. Most famously, the President of the United States had his Twitter account deleted, which is a horrible precedent for the future. Having the former President banned from Twitter, whilst allowing the representative of the Taliban have a verified Twitter account is mind-boggling to me and should raise many questions regarding Facebook and Twitter’s policies surrounding activism. There are numerous cases of Facebook ‘pressuring’ their “fact-checkers”, most notably is a video that was removed surrounding the tough debate around abortion, in which Facebook decided that it didn’t agree with the opinions of the poster and pressured the “fact-checkers” into removing a post that was, in their terms, “false”.

Many may not see the impact of the instillation of “fact-checkers”, as it is a seemingly innocent and noble concept. However, it has clearly been abused in the past to fit Facebook’s political agenda. If left unchecked, it is a slippery slope providing social media platforms that are privately owned the power to determine whether something is false or not. In regard to freedom of speech, I believe that it is very concerning that a private company has the right to restrict the thoughts and beliefs of its users, especially surrounding political activism as it is protected under the Australian Constitution. The Australian Constitution allows for freedom of speech and expression surrounding politics, as it is a way to protect individuals from an over-imposing government. In Australia, a number of High Court cases have solidified the incredible importance of freedom of speech as it enables criticism and promotes lack of complacency within elected governments. Facebook, Twitter and Instagram’s ability to overwrite this right is a concern, especially during the current climate where such communication is needed the most.

https://www.theverge.com/interface/2020/1/14/21063887/activists-facebook-iran-free-speech-authoritarianism
https://firstmonday.org/article/view/4653/3800
https://www.fastcompany.com/90538655/facebook-is-quietly-pressuring-its-independent-fact-checkers-to-change-their-rulings
https://www.alrc.gov.au/wp-content/uploads/2019/08/fr_129ch_4._freedom_of_speech.pdf
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