Social Media’s tyranny on your Freedom of Speech
On Tuesday 17th November 2020, tech giant Facebook was disgraced by Senator Josh Hawley during a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing.
Mark Zuckerberg and his Facebook employees have been, technically speaking, found guilty of invading the privacy of its users and even those who do not have Facebook.
Secondly, the extent of communication on the issue of company moderation by Zuckerberg between Facebook and its counterparts, Twitter, and Google, was also quashed. It appears to be the case that Facebook, Twitter and Google communicate far more regularly than what little information Zuckerberg reluctantly divulged to Senator Hawley.
Perhaps Zuckerberg’s sheepish grimaces throughout the hearing reflects his guilty conscience?
Only time will tell.
And above all, there is concrete evidence here that tech giants such as these have disdained the principle of free speech. Collaboration has taken place amongst these mega corporations to choose what to ban on social media, ranging from certain buttons people press to the hashtags people choose to use. Isn’t this day-light robbery by these so accurately called ‘robbery barons’ of our freedom of speech? How dare they!
Senator Hawley introduced the hearing by labelling the largest corporations in America that abolish competition in the market as “robber barons”. These robber barons are alleged to set prices and rates whilst controlling the flow of data and information, thus engaging in anti-competitive practices, and dominating market share in the tech industry.
One of the main questions in this hearing by Senator Hawley was:
“How are these tech giants coordinating together to control the flow and receipt of information?”
He pursued this by asking Zuckerberg to describe and divulge his knowledge on two significant platforms that have been shown to invade user privacy, reflect on the level of communication between Facebook and its counterparts and how they are launching mass control over our choices/expression via the internet. These platforms allegedly used by Facebook are:
Tasks is a platform utilised by Facebook that allows its employees to communicate on projects they are working on together. This involves discussions on which buttons, hashtags, blog posts and so forth to ban from people using or what content people can write or post about. Doesn’t this sound like censorship? Are we not living in a Westernised society that is mean to be prized on democracy? Perhaps not.
Senator Hawley shared a screenshot of the use of Tasks with references to election integrity. It reflects inferences from Facebook, Twitter, and Google whereby user suggestions were made and placed onto the Tasks platform. They then collaborated by following up with each other on these suggestions made and liaising with each other on user activity and internet expression on this topic.
Unsurprisingly, Zuckerberg tried to justify himself by manipulating this into a hypothetical security threat scenario.
He claimed, “we do coordinate on and share signals on a security topic”, with each company individually assessing the best way to address and deal with this information discussed. But this is not a security threat instance: all this is based on is average user interaction with internet platforms and whether these corporations come together to discuss the ways in which we surf the internet.
Although Zuckerberg asserted that on behalf of Facebook, he does not coordinate policies with other large corporations, he openly admitted that there is “some level of communication that has happened”.
To add to this ambiguity, he refused to provide a list of hashtags, comments, buttons, links etc that the Facebook Communications Team discussed banning on the Tasks platform. This smells fishy and there simply cannot be smoke without fire.
The second platform discussed was Centra. Centra is a tool that Facebook also utilised to track its user activity not only on Facebook, but the internet in all its entirety. It targets linked accounts, user visits across multiple webpages and uses behavioural data using different accounts, even with different/fake names, to gage future user activity.
Initially, Zuckerberg declared that he was ‘not aware to any tool with that name’. But when Senator Hawley probed the questions of how many reviews have been shut down by US authorities through Centra and how many accounts is it associated with, his response changed to: “I am not familiar with this tool”, now not denying its existence or use or this tool by him and Facebook.
Following this line of questioning, it gets much more interesting when Zuckerberg is asked to disclose whether a record is made when a Facebook employee accesses a user’s private information. Denying to comment and failing to produce a list of these instances, many times after this point Zuckerberg simply maintained “I will follow up”, ultimately failing to produce any lists and evade the substance of the questions asked.
Don’t we have the right to know how many times our data has been accessed without our permission or even knowing that that has been done? Nevertheless, this is a violation of free speech and privacy.
It is vivid that there is clear coordination between Facebook, Twitter, and Google to rob us of our speech and confidentiality. We still do not know how these tools are even deployed. It is about time we acted against these robber barons.