By R Carter
Conversations and articles have been popping up around the internet about Facebook’s censorship of pages, posts or comments which may be related to pro-opioid points of view. Under pressure from right winged conservative groups which have claimed Facebook discriminates and censors conservative voices which speak out against minatory groups, Facebook began a civil rights audit to investigate the claims in 2018 using the independent audit group Relman, Dane & Colfax, a Washington based law firm. A conservative bias advising partnership will be led by former Arizona Republican Sen. Jon Kyl, along with his team at Covington and Burling, a Washington law firm which will examine concerns about alleged liberal bias on Facebook followed by The Heritage Foundation, a conservative public policy think tank, convening meetings on these issues with Facebook executives.
More than sixty conservative groups have demanded an end to what they call, conservative bias and censorship on Facebook’s advertising and content policies as reported by Axios. In a lengthy post on The Verge, Casey Newton covered in great detail the efforts of conservative groups and Facebook’s response to these demands for better moderation on conservative views and public postings, commenting and advertising.
Facebook uses search and filtering technologies to spot potential violations of its online content posting guidelines, then follows up potential abuses with human moderators who review content for compliance with company policy. Violations can range from taking down a page, to removing specific posts, banning members, or limiting posting and comments by individuals.
As part of Facebook’s efforts to address the opioid crisis, Facebook and Partnership for Drug-Free Kids + Center on Addiction – a leading national nonprofit, are working to transform how the nation addresses addiction, by launching Stop Opioid Silence (SOS). There have been reports of individuals using Facebook to sell illegal opioids and other drugs through contacts they make on Facebook, specifically targeting groups who provide support and recovery efforts for those recovering from addictions.
The FBI has stepped up efforts to identify drug sales on what’s called the darknet, an underground form of the internet used to carry on a number of criminal enterprises. In recent years a number of operations have been identified and taken down, in part by tracking shipments which are sent via mail order delivery. Maia Szalavitz posed as a potential buyer of opioids on Facebook in her effort to identify potential poisonous batches of drugs and for providing supplies of materials used to test for Fentanyl and other contaminants in heroin. Facebook has banned her for life as she tells in her stories on High Wire. Maia says her efforts are about protecting individuals from using contaminated substances, but facilitating safe drug use is apparently too liberal of an approach to saving lives and therefore, Facebook has banned her, taking down her page.
Other individuals report banning of posts and comments which may in some cases, be pro-opioid, but this is unclear, as Facebook provides no means of identifying which content guidelines have been violated when a person is banned. The Verge posted, “In the past few months, accounts have been disabled, groups have disappeared, posts containing certain content—particularly related to fentanyl—have been removed, and one social media manager reports having been banned for life from advertising on Facebook”.
Usually users are not aware of any problem until they attempt to post or comment, then suddenly their content is blocked with an ambiguous and non-descript explanation. Jonelle Elgway operates Conspiracies Against Wellness, which hosts talk shows, “The Doctor’s Corner with Dr. Kline”, “Don’t Punish Pain Rally with Claudia Merandi” and “The CAW Show” on YouTube. She like most bloggers, makes posts on Facebook and Twitter to draw viewers to her content. In a phone interview Jonelle reports being banned from posting and commenting on Facebook and having her Twitter account permanently blocked for the articles and posts she writes. In both cases she’s been given no explanations for why these actions have been taken, preventing her from taking any corrective action to address the concerns these sites may have. Jonelle goes on to say that she has made multiple attempts to contact Facebook and Twitter to resolve the issue but has received no response.
On Facebook, temporary banning can last anywhere from seven days to as much a month. A search of Facebook’s Community Guidelines for content posting offers no specific details for the individuals who have been banned, leaving them to only wonder why such actions have been taken. At this point you can send a message and request a review of the issue which has caused the ban, but beyond this, there’s no further communication from Facebook until the ban is lifted. Even then, the only information the user receives is that the ban has been lifted. Facebook users are complaining not so much for the banning but for the manner in which Facebook manages this process, not informing users of the specific post or comment which triggered the bad so that corrective actions can be taken to prevent future bans.
In my own experience I have been banned four times, the first two times was for a week, the third was for ten days and the fourth was for a month. On the fourth banning I made the assumption that banning was occurring because I had made a post on my page plus two other pages which were not mine, all the FB posts linked back to my blog about the same blog article. I sent a message back to Facebook at the time I was notified about the ban, to request review, explaining that the posts on pages I did not own were done so by invitation from the page owners. I received no further contact from Facebook until a received a notice that the ban had been lifted, no other comment was included with that notice.
CEO Mark Zuckerberg in this link, revealed to Forbes, his views for censoring posts on Facebook. In many ways, Facebook seems to be straddling several fences on the subject of free speech, trying to appease both the left and the right while maintaining its site as one of the leading advertising platforms around the world. As such, it’s too soon to say who will be the winners and who will be the losers. While business tends to be right leaning, many users tend to be neutral or left leaning and without buyers, conservative sellers have nothing they can sell, making the efforts of Facebook to selectively ban users and content, a two edged sword.