Under mounting pressure to counter misinformation around the COVID-19 pandemic, Facebook is increasingly dictating what its users should see and think.
Facebook already downgrades any posts it doesn’t like the look of regarding the virus, but it’s apparently concerned that some of its users might still interact with the wrong content. It’s not Facebook users’ fault, you see, they’re just hapless plebs with not critical faculties of their own. Thankfully Facebook is on the case.
The social media giant’s VP of Integrity (an Orwellian job title if there ever was one), Guy Rosen, recently provided An Update on Our Work to Keep People Informed and Limit Misinformation About COVID-19. “We’re going to start showing messages in News Feed to people who have liked, reacted or commented on harmful misinformation about COVID-19 that we have since removed,” said Rosen.
“These messages will connect people to COVID-19 myths debunked by the WHO including ones we’ve removed from our platform for leading to imminent physical harm. We want to connect people who may have interacted with harmful misinformation about the virus with the truth from authoritative sources in case they see or hear these claims again off of Facebook.”
As ever with censorship initiatives, it all comes down to who decides what it the truth, what is harmful, and so on. Facebook seems determined to position the World Heath Organisation as the ultimate authority on such matters, despite mounting accusations of its bias in favour of China, which contributed to the recent decision by US President Trump to halt its funding.
— The White House (@WhiteHouse) April 14, 2020
One of the single biggest reasons Facebook has decided to double down on censorship may have been a report by online activist organization Avaaz, criticising Facebook for not censoring more. Sadly many journalists are also jumping on the censorship bandwagon, apparently unaware of how utterly self-defeating such a desire is.
Now do the same thing for climate crisis denial https://t.co/zA5gkk4NCe
— John Paczkowski (@JohnPaczkowski) April 16, 2020
The above tweet does, presumably inadvertently, serve one very useful purpose. If Facebook is being so proactive about censorship of COVID-19 talk, why isn’t it applying that level of rigour to other topics organizations like Avaaz disapprove of? Surely the censorship should never stop until bad speech is entirely eradicated from the internet and, ideally, people’s minds.
As we have said many times, the genie is out of the bottle when it comes to free speech on the internet. People will always find somewhere to say what they want and attempts to stop them often do more harm (which we’re supposed to be against, right?) than good. Conversely, if Facebook is serious about telling its users what to think, even its latest increase in censorship doesn’t go nearly far enough.