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By Jason Michael
LAST NIGHT FACEBOOK began deleting pro-independence posts from the platform in what is being sold to its billions of users as a drive to tackle “fake news.” Wings Over Scotland, The Orkney News, Butterfly Rebellion, and many others have reported that their material has been hidden and deleted from pages and groups. This naturally gives rise to the growing suspicion that the social media giant is acting on orders from the London government to suppress alternative media in Scotland critical of the union and the unionist media narrative. At the end of last month, following a breach of copyright complaint from the BBC, YouTube shut down the Wings Over Scotland account on that platform – highlighting the fact that the British state is now actively working to censor online content critical of the government and the union.
Yet, this censorship is not limited to action against the Scottish independence movement. In the United Sates Facebook was forced to issue an apology to Prager University after it temporarily removed its videos and blocked at least nine of its posts from reaching users on the platform. In a statement on this Prager University CMO, Craig Strazzeri, said:
While we’ve experienced blatant discrimination from Google/YouTube, which is why we’ve filed legal action against them, this represents a whole new level of censorship by Facebook. At this point, Facebook has provided little clarity saying it will get back to us in another two to three business days, which in the world of social media might as well be an eternity.
What is now happening to the pro-independence alternative media in Scotland is following a trend that has been developing in the US. Facebook’s detection systems “mistakenly” flagged content published on Elizabeth Johnston’s The Activist Mommy blog for “hate speech” and banned her. When she challenged Facebook on this her account and page were reinstated and she was issued with an apology. “Apparently,” wrote Johnson, “I upset the ‘Thought Police’ over at Facebook.” But this is precisely it, while Johnson is a right-wing blogger with some pretty obnoxious views on homosexuality and sex education, it is deeply concerning that our thoughts are being policed.
Who exactly gives Mark Zuckerberg the right to say what we can and cannot express online? Sure, clear cases of hate speech and incitement to violence should – by law – be removed and offenders brought to book, but we already have laws for that. It’s upsetting that Facebook can remove content it arbitrarily finds unpleasant or distasteful. But it is a private company; it’s Facebook’s platform and Facebook’s rules. But what’s really concerning – even worrying – is that governments appear to have a say in what and what can’t be shared on the site.
Zuckerberg and Facebook, a company with a market value of $510 billion and which owns both Instagram and WhatsApp, have been in deep water over the past year. We learned from the Cambridge Analytica data mining scandal that Facebook was up to its neck in collusion with big business and government. The vast amounts of information it gathers from users – data; everything from social attitudes and personal wealth to political preferences and opinions, is massively useful to governments and private corporations. The scandal exposed the degree to which Zuckerberg’s company was sharing and working with government agencies – to the extent that the information it provided has helped to subvert democratic elections and has enabled the wholesale gaming of democracy. Facebook – along with other platforms – has become a key to power for those with the money and backing to buy it.
With an estimated 2.2 billion active monthly users, however, the site provides a platform – or has provided a platform – to counter-voices; alternative political and social ideas and opinions which pose a considerable threat to governments and corporations around the globe. Realising this, more repressive governments, including the PR China, North Korea, and Iran, have banned access to Facebook and a whole host of social media websites. Banning Facebook is not an option for most democracies, however. Such overt censorship would be met with a backlash capable of bringing down the government. Western democracies have to box clever.
In the United Kingdom the goals of totalitarianism are still achieved but through more subtle methods, thus maintaining the façade of “freedom and democracy.” Here the government infiltrates the service provider and with a mix of inducement and coercion manages to gain a level of control over the company and its policies and practices. This is certainly what we saw in action when Google’s YouTube closed down Wings Over Scotland. Had this be a simple matter of copyright – bearing in mind that no unionist accounts using BBC material were shut down – YouTube would have only removed the offending video or videos. Yet, this is not what happened. Stu Campbell’s entire YouTube account was closed. He has since, thankfully, had it restored, but, taken together, this would point to government involvement.
Why then should we consider Facebook’s decision yesterday to delete and block pro-independence websites from being shared on its platform to be any different? Mark Zuckerberg doesn’t care a hoot about Scottish or British politics. He doesn’t give a monkey’s about “fake news” or about who is saying what on his site. Zuckerberg’s only care is the bottom line. Facebook only does what guarantees profits, and so only those with the power to damage its bottom line have a say in how it behaves. In the UK this means that only the British government has the clout to influence Facebook in such a way that it will begin deleting and blocking material.
This is what we mean, in the context of pro-independence politics, when we speak of a media war. We have been in a media war with the British government and its media department – the BBC – since the beginning. This is merely the most recent development in the UK’s strategy to kill the independence campaign in Scotland. In order to resist this attempt to silence us we must now be thinking of alternatives – even the possibility of leaving Facebook behind altogether. There are alternative – Twitter, Minds, Tremr, and others. We have the power to vote with our feet, and we must be prepared, as a movement, to do what it takes to protect the wonderful and vibrant alternative media we have worked so hard to create.
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As long as a social media platform is privately owned it will be subject to interference. We need some sort of public open source alternative that is truly free from government and bigcorp manipulation.
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Fine in theory, but how could such a service be run, and above all regulated? Either it’s done by the government i.e. ‘Big Brother’, of it’s private and subject to commercial pressures. Some sort of voluntary collective might work, from an editorial POV at least, but there remains the question of who provides the hardware and connectivity, and thus ultimately has the whip hand?
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Just recently I picked up my old copy of 1984. I always knew it was far sighted but I have been astonished that it anticipated so much. When you read it in light of the Facebook/Cambridge Analytica data scandal, the idea that our inner thought life is being monitored and controlled (deleted?) by Big Brother takes on a whole new significance. I also was struck with the idea of Winston Smith’s job being to re-write history, removing any reference, memory or record of past events which were now disapproved of by Bog Brother. Is that not the function of the established media today? With a rye smile on my face, it reminded of Ruth Davidson flip flopping on Brexit – just how many different and contradictory positions can one person take in the relatively short period of time and never be questioned on it? (this ‘doublethink’ and ‘blackwhite’ is straight out of the pages of 1984).
In 1984 parlance, Mark Zuckerberg is O’Brien, the one who initially appeared to be Winston Smith’s friend and greatest hope, but who actually proves to be his deadly enemy as an agent of Big Brother.
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Absolutely smashing comment Ian. Yes, this is 1984 territory.
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Yesterday, I had about 9 posts that I had shared removed by FB saying that they removed them because they thought they were spam, however, there was a link that had a a box saying “This is not Spam” the post was then reinstated, but I have no idea why they chose these particular posts as one was a video on Ancient Scotland and one was a promotion for Frankie Boyle’s upcoming show! The point I am making is that I have no idea why these particular posts were considered to be Spam!
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Ditto! It was very weird.
I had at least half a dozen of my Facebook posts to my own newsfeed marked as spam by Facebook yesterday and they locked my account after the 3rd one. Sharing was fine, but links weren’t. When I got back in, after jumping through hoops, I read that it was happening to others. But, and here’s the thing, it was happening in the U.S., too. So it wasn’t just us indy folk being picked out for censorship. After I told Facebook that the posts weren’t spam they reinstated them but it was a tad annoying, to say the least!
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Reblogged this on Ramblings of a 50+ Female and commented:
Weird happenings on Facebook.
I suffered the same, postings are spam claim by Facebook yesterday but got them reinstated, leaving a comment each time. Most of my comments included references to “Ministry of Truth”, censorship, bias, intimidation, anti-independence actions and behaving as a Westminster propaganda unit, being well paid through tax avoidance. Asked for a definitive list of what they call spam……awaiting response.
You can always move to something else. If he is only interested in not getting on the wrong side of the governments, well hit him where it hurts.