Is Facebook Censoring Conservatives? The Truth about Moderating

10/30/2019     Author: Billy Gray

Facebook is routinely accused by the right of censoring even moderate conservative opinions – but is there any truth to this accusation? Here’s the lo-down.

 

When it comes to moderating social media platforms, no one is doing a particularly good job in pleasing the crowds. It seems like the left is always demanding that Facebook, Twitter, YouTube censor more right-wing content creators, and the right are always complaining that they’re being censored. Is there really any way of pleasing everyone? Or should these social media platforms really be aiming for a compromise that satisfies no one?

In truth, moderating millions of posts per day is extremely difficult – for the most part, these sites rely on an algorithm that picks up certain posts, which can then be looked at by human moderators. It’s important that hateful content is removed so that bullying doesn’t take place, but sometimes it seems that what one person see’s as harmless fun, another sees as being offensive.

We live in an age of offence taking – which is understandably really annoying to many people. But how does a company with more than 2 billion users on its platform take care to sift through all of that content and protect people who might genuinely be at risk from bullying and hateful attacks, while also making sure it doesn’t slip up along the way?

The complaint of conservatives

Recently, conservative organization Prager University (PragerU) complained that some videos had been removed from Facebook for breaching hate speech guidelines. As it turned out, these videos were arguing the case for men being more masculine, and suggesting that the modern Muslim world is being ruled by bad ideas. Now, whether one agrees with these statements or not – and there is certainly a debate to be had there – the arguments themselves are by no means hate speech.

PragerU complained that the videos were only unblocked once there was a large enough outcry, and that Facebook had deliberately censored them to appease liberal-leaning political ideologies. There is some truth to this, videos with conservative opinions are often blocked on social media websites after people with left-leaning political views complain that they’re offensive. In some cases, these views aren’t offensive, but rather just disagree with the views of those complaining.

It’s common practice now for student bodies to try and ban conservative and Republican speakers – even moderate ones. Those who suggest that there might be a problem with organized religions, political correctness, or those who suggest that masculinity and femininity are positive things are often targeted for ‘hate speech’ on the premise that they’re being xenophobic, homophobic, or racist in some way.

This, of course, has led to a large outcry among not just conservatives, but also many moderates and liberals who are now joining in with the chorus of criticism on how Facebook and other social media platforms moderate their content.

Is Facebook censoring conservatives?

In general, Facebook cannot be said to be censoring conservatives around the board. They have no policy to censor conservatives and routinely deny these allegations. What’s more, Mark Zuckerberg comes under fire from routinely dining with conservatives, and the company was recently criticized for allowing and subsequently defending Breitbart News to be on its news tab.

The company is stuck in a catch-22. On the one hand, lots of people want them to remove views deemed as racist, homophobic, and otherwise disagreeable and offensive. On the other hand, many of these people consider things that aren’t actually racist or otherwise offensive to be so, and thus demand the censoring of civil debate on issues like religion, sex, and politics.

In short, Facebook cannot please everyone, and their moderating techniques do have to rely on complaints, algorithms, and human judgment to make decisions about which content to keep and which stuff to filter. There are billions of posts and shares made on Facebook every day, and the company can’t hope to look through all of them objectively.

Conservatives are right to complain about some videos and posts being removed from Facebook, but then, there are some of them who are just arguing for very offensive content to be kept on the site for the sake of free speech. Facebook does have the right to choose what goes on the platform, at the end of the day, because it’s a private company.

That being said, the platform is undeniably public in nature and the company could do more to address the concerns of people who are complaining about censorship.

Moderating is hard

At the end of the day, moderating a social media platform is extremely difficult, and Facebook and the other major companies in this field will naturally be accused from one side of the other. It’s very unlikely that Facebook is deliberately censoring conservatives for political objectives. It’s much more likely that they’re treading a line very carefully trying not to avoid public scandal, which is easy to come nowadays – especially when you’re debating sensitive topics in an era where people are becoming very aware of the blunders of racism and divide both past and present.

At the end of the day, public outcry tends to cause a stir, and Facebook has gone back on some of the moderating decisions that they’ve made in the past. You have to understand the sheer size of the task of moderating a social network with 2.4 billion users.

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