June 27, 2022

The Most Blatantly Biased Social Media Censorship Decisions of the Week

Two recent decisions by Facebook about the Ukraine-Russia war are perfect examples of the arbitrariness of censorship.

This is a version of an article published in the Out of Frame Weekly, an email newsletter about the intersection of art, culture, and ideas. Sign up here to get it in your inbox every Friday.

In this newsletter, we often talk about how social media companies decide what content is and isn’t allowed solely based on the subjective opinions of people who run the platforms. And this week gifted us two glorious examples.

The Intercept reported that Facebook will allow users to praise the Azov Battalion, a Ukrainian White nationalist paramilitary group, in contradiction to the social network’s policy banning support for “dangerous individuals and organizations.” According to the United Nations, the Azov Battalion raped and tortured civilians in 2014.

Facebook said it made the change to “allow Facebook users to obtain information about the forces’ military activity” and “ensure that news coverage of the conflict can continue to be shared on the platform,” according to Insider. It is unclear why this change was necessary to allow that, but that may speak to bigger problems in how Facebook’s rules conflict with users’ ability to freely share information.

Facebook also made an exception to its hate speech policy to allow statements like “death to the Russian invaders” and calling for violence against Russian president Vladimir Putin and his ally, Belarussian president Aleksandr Lukashenko.

The change only applies in several countries in the Caucasus and Central and Eastern Europe, including Russia, where Facebook is currently banned.

People should rightfully condemn the Russian invasion of Ukraine. But these actions by Facebook, along with decisions to ban propaganda from only one side in the war, demonstrate that decisions that should be made on some kind of objective principle are instead being made on the basis of team sport. Policies are chosen on the basis of trying to help “the good guys” and harm “the bad guys.” What is the objective reason that people should be allowed to call for the death of Putin and Lukashenko but not any of the world’s dozens of other dictators?

This shows that while banning “false information” or “hate speech” sounds good in theory, in practice it is not so simple, and the execution is prone to political bias.

This article, The Most Blatantly Biased Social Media Censorship Decisions of the Week, was originally published by the Foundation for Economic Education and appears here with permission.  Please support their mission.