Facebook, Free Speech, and Social Media

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After posting my interview with Dawn Xiana Moon about the Raks Inferno fundraiser on August 2nd, I did what many of my fellow Chicago Now bloggers do in these situations: post a link to this blog's Facebook page. As a blogger, I feel a responsibility to highlight great nonprofit and community-based initiatives, so featuring this fundraiser was an extremely easy decision for me to make.

The next morning, I checked Facebook and found a post from Dawn on her page. She had mentioned that when she attempted to promote the Raks Inferno: Immigration Protest Edition Facebook event, they turned her down due to "political content." In a further comment, Dawn indicated that they requested information including her social security number, a copy of her driver's license, and a working knowledge of classic Doctor Who production codes.

Yes, that was a joke...but what comes next isn't so funny.

In talking with my fellow Chicago Now bloggers, I learned that Jessica Gardner of Little Merry Sunshine also was denied the opportunity to promote a post on Facebook for "political content". However, the focus of Jessica's post isn't on politics, but on a very painful, personal experience she had...which became reflected in a then-current political situation.

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(Please read Jessica's post - it's extremely moving and I wish I had read it earlier. It deserves to be selected as one of Chicago Now's Best Posts of June 2018).

So I decided to try to boost two Facebook posts which included my interview with Dawn: one from this blog's Facebook page, and another through my Patreon page. I thought, "Hey, what could go wrong?" Result - both were shot down due to "political content." And I was asked to not only set up two-step verification (which makes sense for security reasons) but was also asked for a ton of personal information.

Ironically, this comes after Mark Zuckerberg had to walk back comments about Holocaust deniers, and before Facebook declared InfoWars comments about Robert Mueller fell "within their guidelines". (Facebook later pulled four InfoWars videos for violating community standards). It may be due to a glitch in Facebook's algorithm, but this feels too deliberate and selective to be totally random. So let's put this in perspective:

Three private individuals were denied the opportunity to pay to promote their content on Facebook: one was promoting a fundraiser, another a very personal essay, and I was promoting an interview.

However, Facebook has supported causes and initiatives that were extremely political in content.facebook-logo_0

To be honest, Facebook has spent the past few years dealing with deeper concerns around social media and political interference. Most recently, Facebook's recent scandals resulted in its stock declining by 19%, and there's a general distrust of Facebook due to its policies.

But free speech in social media is becoming an increasingly complicated issue. As someone who has been Twitter blocked by a formerly famous cartoonist, and who has called out a comedian for racist statements on Twitter, I understand that freedom of speech does not mean freedom from consequence or controversy. But paid social media becomes trickier, especially with nonprofits and other community organization relying more on paid Facebook promotions to get their content seen...this feels arbitrary and selective.

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And it's wrong. Yes, I understand that freedom of speech does not ensure freedom from controversy nor consequence. I have received comments for criticizing Roseanne Barr's racist Tweets and was blocked by a former cartoonist-turned-pundit for conflating his irrelevance with my irreverence (or words to that effect). But Facebook and other social media channels (notably Twitter) are adopting a "both sides are equal" philosophy in their community guidelines but are inconsistent in enforcing those guidelines. At a time when there are organized efforts by right-wing members to harass women, people of color, other marginalized communities, and political opponents of the current administration via social media (hashtags that end with "-gate" come to mind), taking a stand in favor of diverse voices - rather than "walking away" from those voices - diminishes the power of social media bullying.

Truth is...Dawn Xiana Moon has every right to pay for promoting Raks Inferno: Immigration Protest Edition on Facebook to raise funds for the Young Center for Immigrant Children's Rights. Her voice deserves to be heard.

Truth is also...Jessica Gardner has every right to pay to promote her Facebook posts for Little Merry Sunshine. She's an incredible blogger, and like many of her fellow Chicago Now bloggers, I'm proud of her work.

Facebook is denying them - and others - a chance to shine. Sadly, that denial is costing Facebook...and free speech.

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