The idea behind net neutrality was that internet users would be protected from punishment or from being restricted from internet access for their political beliefs. Unfortunately, political persecution of social media users already seems to be happening, not at the hands of the government, but by the tech companies themselves. Facebook, recently in the news for sharing data on its users with Cambridge Analytica, has a long history of stifling conservative speech. Now the administrators of a large pro-Trump Facebook page say that the company removed them from control of their page for no reason.
Thomas Pappert and Adam Rogers (a pseudonym), the administrators of the Facebook page “God Emperor Trump,” say that Facebook deleted them from their positions on the page, but did not remove the page itself or any of the posts on the page. At the time of writing, the page was still available for viewing on Facebook, but the pair say that they won't be able to post new content, other than posts that had already been scheduled when they were removed.
The page with its 335,000 followers represents three years of work for Pappert and Rogers. A press release on the Department of Memes says that the page administrators received an email from Facebook at 2:30 pm on March 29. Screen shots provided to Resurgent show a message from Facebook security that says, “You're getting this email to confirm that you're no longer an admin on God Emperor Trump.” The email instructed the admins to have another admin add them back or to contact Facebook.
“In the email we received from Facebook informing us of their decision to remove us from the page, there is a link we could click if we felt it was done improperly. When we click the link, it then leads us to another link, where we can fill out a report,” said Rogers. “When we go to this final page, the 'report' function is broken. It says Facebook had an error and to try again later.”
“It's done this for all of our admins, on different browsers, and across several different states,” he added.
The men say that their page was unpublished twice before and restored by Facebook. Rogers says that publicity from conservative media outlets helped get the page restored in those cases. “They were able to get the attention of actual humans at Facebook, who blamed the decision on an 'algorithmic failure' both times,” he says.
Whether a problematic algorithm or a rogue employee like the one who deleted President Trump's Twitter account last year, biased enforcement of social media rules is a growing problem. The lack of recourse for social media bans and the inability to contact customer service at the tech giants makes getting banned very frustrating for users.
In the wake of “fake news” and Russian bot scandals from 2016, Facebook and Twitter seem to be responding by cracking down on many conservative accounts and pages. A Project Veritas video in January revealed Twitter executives admitting to using “shadow bans” to censor conservative viewpoints. Twitter seems to easily verify liberal accounts while those on the right (including the author) have difficulty getting the accreditation. Conservative pages on Facebook have seen their circulation drop in the wake of new algorithms that prioritize “news that is trustworthy, informative, and local” in Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg's words.
Because the social media companies are not the government, the First Amendment does not apply. Private companies can allow or ban posts and users as they see fit. Some, including Zuckerberg, are calling for regulation of the companies to force them to do the right thing with regard to privacy and free speech, but, as the IRS scandal from the Obama Administration shows, even the government can't be trusted to be impartial.
If social media companies want to censor conservative speech, the only other option might be for conservatives to leave the platforms and go to sites that are specifically created for conservatives. This approach has been taken by members of the alt-right who have created alternative sites where their views are accepted.
Social media sites have every right to run their businesses as they see fit, but forcing conservatives to flee to other platforms would be bad for the country as we divide ourselves further into opposing camps that interact with each other less and less. We already have separate news channels and websites. Facebook and Twitter are among the few places where Americans hear opposing viewpoints.
It would also be bad for stockholders if censorship drives users and ad revenue away. Facebook, a company less than 20 years old, has a near monopoly on social media now, but monopolies don't last forever and forcing users to develop competing platforms may accelerate the process of turning Facebook into the next Standard Oil.