I was locked out of my Facebook account earlier today, for allegedly “misusing” the share feature on my WordPress site. I shared a political article in political discussion groups, some of which I co-manage. Facebook conducted “security checks”, made me change my password, and when I was finally permitted to log back in, I found a notice telling me that my account was temporarily “restricted” for the fourth or fifth time this year. I can’t post or comment in any Facebook groups. Furthermore, the few posts that I made cannot be read, as people tell me they can’t open the link. They are getting a notice that says “content is unavailable.” Some of my previous posts have been completely removed, too. Not for the first time, either.
I made ten shares from my WordPress site, and I’ve since watched a friend make at least twenty shares of an article, she posted in some of the same groups as I had. She wasn’t booted from her account or given a temporary ban from posting like I was.
I posted this article on my own Facebook wall after I published it, and was asked to go through another security check …
Previously I had assumed that Facebook imposes account restrictions which are based on an algorithm. But now, I don’t believe this is the case.
Facebook is a business, is motivated by profit and can handle and disseminate its news any way it likes, and it does in much the same way as any newspaper or cable news channel. What is disappointing is that Facebook has long professed its political neutrality, and the manipulation of computer-driven trending news flies in the face of that promise to its billions of users.
Last Thursday, the Guardian reported that a team of news “editors” working in shifts around the clock were instructed on how to “inject” stories into the trending topics module on Facebook, and how to “blacklist” topics for removal for up to a day over reasons including “doesn’t represent a real-world event,” left to the discretion of the editors.
Facebook relies heavily on just 10 news sources to determine whether a trending news story has editorial authority. The report said that “editors” were told: “You should mark a topic as ‘National Story’ importance if it is among the 1-3 top stories of the day,” reads the trending review guidelines for the US. “We measure this by checking if it is leading at least 5 of the following 10 news websites: BBC News, CNN, Fox News, The Guardian, NBC News, The New York Times, USA Today, The Wall Street Journal, Washington Post, Yahoo News or Yahoo.”
Yet the allegation, made by Gizmodo, which is a commercial enterprise that is a part of Gawker Media, whose founder and proprietor is Nick Denton, a British Internet entrepreneur, (who has also featured in the Sunday Times Rich List 2007) was that there is an inclination to censor Conservative stories. The BBC, Fox News (created by Australian-American right-wing media mogul Rupert Murdoch, who hired former Republican Party media consultant and NBC executive Roger Ailes as its founding CEO), CNN (with its prominent anti- Sanders bias), NBC, the controversial New York Times, Wall Street Journal (former The Wall Street Journal reporters have said that, since Rupert Murdoch bought the paper, news stories have been edited to adopt a far more Conservative tone, critical of Democrats), can hardly be described as having a “left-wing bias.”
I mean, come ON! What, with the BBC being such a veritable hotbed of communism, a bastion for ardent lefties such as Chris Patten and his successor, Rona Fairhead, in charge of strategic direction, for example.
Yeah, just kidding with you.
Facebook’s policy to artificially inject stories, as long as they were validated by coverage from these outlets reflects the platform’s clear connection to perpetuating dominant, establishment narratives, replicating the same mainstream media biases, censorship and distortions. As one former curator said, “If it looked like it had enough news sites covering the story, we could inject it—even if it wasn’t naturally trending.”
The practice clearly violates Facebook’s claims to make the trending news feed appear as strictly “topics that have recently become popular” on the site.
The criticism of “liberal bias” sounds to me much like Duncan Smith’s lament and subsequent rabid crusade to “closely monitor” the BBC for a non-existent “left-wing bias” a couple of years back, because the Conservatives don’t tolerate challenges and criticism, especially those made publicly, very well at all. Perhaps the critics meant “neoliberal.”
Strict guidelines are enforced around Facebook’s “involved in this story” feature, which pulls information from Facebook pages of newsmakers – say, a sports star or a famous author. The guidelines give editors ways to determine which users’ pages are appropriate to cite, and how prominently.
I don’t agree that Facebook has a liberal or left-wing bias. It’s a business and its central motivation is to make a profit. However, I do believe that far from democratising how we access global information, the web has in fact restricted those information sources, reflecting a minority interest in much the same way that mainstream media outlets have. Much as large national chains and globalization have replaced the local shops with megastores and local trade and craftsmanship with assembly line production, the internet is centralising and gatekeeping information access from a myriad of websites and local newspapers and radio/television shows to a handful of single behemoth social platforms that wield universal global power and control over what we consume, shape what we desire and curate what we see.
Indeed, social media platforms appear to increasingly view themselves no longer as neutral publishing platforms but rather as active mediators and curators of what we may be permitted to see.
My site, though fairly popular among social media users, is clearly not considered to be “relevant” to Facebook’s increasingly tatty, diversionary and outright censorship approach to news “editing.” However, Facebook doesn’t have any scruples about asking me for money to “boost” the reach of posts on my Politics and Insights community page, including for two articles that have each earned me a temporary ban for sharing in groups, Facebook actually removed those articles from the groups I had managed to post in. Then asked me to pay to increase the audience for them.
Although Facebook have been accused of a “liberal bias,” a second list, of 1,000 trusted sources, was provided to the Guardian by Facebook following the allegations. It includes prominent Conservative news outlets such as Redstate, Breitbart, the Drudge Report and the Daily Caller. I think that the Conservatives get FAR more than the alleged thin end of the partisan wedge space allocated on social media platforms.
Facebook has become a destination for fluff and nonsense, diverting interest from the real news and pressing social issues, favoring gossip-mongering about celebs, advertising and other trivia.
Meanwhile, the Conservatives continue to shape our conceptual landscape with a ferocious level of control freakery, effectively airbrushing over anything that challenges and contradicts their hegemonic stranglehold.
Image courtesy of Robert Livingstone
Update: The restriction on my Facebook account was lifted less than two hours ago. I shared my latest article in four groups from my Facebook homepage. I then went onto my WordPress sharing feature to get a shortlink for the article, only to discover that the share link with Facebook had somehow been disconnected, there was a warning notice informing me that I needed to reconnect with Facebook. I did so, and then posted the shortlink, pasting it manually, in just two groups… and immediately got another Facebook ban from posting and commenting in groups, including the ones I set up or co-run, until 12.55am tomorrow (Thursday).
I’ve just submitted details about my recent experiences of Facebook censorship to this survey: https://onlinecensorship.org/ty
Second update: A few hours after the last ban was lifted, I tried to share my post written for Scisco Media via that site to ONE group just ONCE and was booted off my account, and had to prove my identity AGAIN and go through security checks, change my password AGAIN, logged back in, and my account is restricted AGAIN. I’ve a ban from posting and commenting in groups until tomorrow afternoon. Facebook sent me a notice saying that they detected “suspicious activity” on my account, and said it’s likely I used my password to log into a site that looked like Facebook. The notice said the problems on my account are probably because of “phishing.” But I changed my password at their request earlier this week, I have not logged out of Facebook since, and don’t use the same password on other sites. I never click on dubious links, I have decent security on my PC and never open emails unless I know where they are from. I don’t believe Facebook, though I suppose I could be wrong. I feel they really are taking the proverbial now.
How does any of their line of reasoning regarding potential “phishing”, locking down my account, the ID and security checks, which would have been reasonable measures had my account actually been compromised, justify another ban from posting in my groups? It’s not a coherent explanation for the ban on posting in groups at all. I ran my security software, no problems were detected.
Third update: My ban lifted. I shared two different posts in just four groups. I also tried to share my latest article about human rights for Scisco Media, directly from the site. I posted in just two human rights discussion groups and was immediately banned again, with a notice from Facebook that said: “Looks like you are misusing this feature.” Today I have seen people posting articles in up to fifteen groups and they didn’t get a ban or a notice telling them that posting in multiple groups is “misuse” of the share feature. This is my fifth ban in six days. Absolutely ridiculous. I’m wondering why Facebook bothers encouraging people to set up discussion groups when people get banned for simply posting in them.
Actually, I’m now wondering, what is the point of Facebook?
I don’t make any money from my work. But you can support Politics and Insights and contribute by making a donation which will help me continue to research and write informative, insightful and independent articles, and to provide support to others. The smallest amount is much appreciated, and helps to keep my articles free and accessible to all – thank you.