Facebook Considering Editorialising Climate Change Posts

Guest essay by Eric Worrall

h/t Dr. Willie Soon; Facebook have upped the ante in their ongoing challenge to the limits of Section 230 of the Communication Act, part of the law which shields social media giants from lawsuits over posts which contain libellous content, yet allows them to remove “offensive” material, by upping their intrusion into the private and public communications of members.

The next front in Facebook’s misinformation battle: climate change 

By Clare Duffy, CNN Business
Updated 1409 GMT (2209 HKT) November 7, 2021

New York (CNN Business)In August 2019, when a Facebook employee typed “climate change” into the platform’s search bar, the auto-fill suggestions that popped up included “climate change debunked” and “climate change is a hoax.” The results prompted the employee to ask in a post on the company’s internal site: “Do our policies combatting the spread of misinformation on Facebook apply to climate denialism?” 

The documents highlight how, for years, some employees of the social media company — which recently changed its name to Meta — have raised alarms about climate change misinformation spreading on its platforms, and called on the company to do more to crack down on it. 

On Monday, the company’s VP of Global Affairs, Nick Clegg, announced in a blog post additional steps Facebook is taking to address climate change, including expanding informational labels on some posts about climate change to more than a dozen countries. 

Experts, however, say the stakes could not be higher for Facebook to further ramp up its solutions for this problem — and soon. 

“Given that [climate change] is an existential threat, we can’t be casual about the seriousness about the threat of climate misinformation,” said John Cook, a research assistant professor at the Center for Climate Change Communication at George Mason University. “It needs to be addressed with the same level of urgency and proactiveness that they’re showing with Covid-19 and election misinformation.”

Read more: https://edition.cnn.com/2021/11/07/tech/facebook-climate-change-misinformation/index.html

The problem with Section 230 appears to be the definition of “offensive” is too vague.

I think most people would agree social media companies should be allowed to remove say child pornography videos, or videos of perverts filming themselves gang raping adult victims, but Facebook and other activist social media companies appear to want to extend this definition of “offensive” to include discussing theories they don’t like about the origins of Covid, the effectiveness of vaccines, what happened during the last Presidential election, and now, discussion of the causes of climate change.

Are these topics really offensive in the sense that child pornography is offensive? Or are Facebook and other social media giants completely out of control, abusing a weak section 230 law to impose arbitrary censorship on users?

Society really needs to make a decision about what speech is permitted, and what speech social media giants are allowed to censor.

To many people, social media communications are like phone calls. Imagine if you were say discussing current affairs with a friend on the phone, and suddenly a robot voice intruded, explaining a comment you just made conflicted with a fact check?

How is that different to say Facebook intruding on a closed discussion with friends, taking down or downgrading the visibility of posts, or adding their intrusive and in my opinion frequently questionable fact checks? Is it reasonable to do this, even with a public discussion? Are we really a society where it is appropriate to have Facebook censors interrupting private and public conversations with a big megaphone, shouting “fact checks” into the public square?

There is no doubt the heavy handed censorship by Facebook and other social media giants has a chilling effect on legitimate conversation and discovery of new information.

Look at Facebook’s treatment of the Covid lab leak hypothesis. Facebook suppressed suggestions Covid leaked from a lab in Wuhan, until the suppression of this increasingly mainstream theory got embarrassing, then they shamelessly backflipped and lifted the ban.

Facebook: People Are Now Permitted to Speculate Covid-19 Leaked from a Laboratory

Suppression of free speech is dangerous. Chinese suppression of free speech, arresting and intimidating doctors who tried to warn the world, allowed the Wuhan outbreak to grow into a global pandemic.

In my opinion Facebook’s abuse of censorship has strayed dangerously close to the CCP’s level of high risk suppression, through their manipulation and suppression of legitimate discussion about the origins of Covid. How does Facebook’s suppression of the Covid lab leak theory qualitatively differ from CCP suppression of the original medical warnings from Wuhan?

Unless the ambiguity and weakness of US decency laws is addressed, organisations like Facebook will continue in their hubris to impose their views about what speech is permissible on society, for in my opinion frequently opaque reasons, without having to explain themselves, while still enjoying the protection of Section 230.

There is a reason the founding fathers enshrined freedom of speech in the US Constitution. They recognised the anti-democratic nature of denying people access to facts and viewpoints, in order to manipulate the opinions and actions of ordinary people. The Founding Fathers knew the danger to civic society, of concentrating the power to decide what opinions can be expressed, into the hands of one person or a small group of people.

Next time social media giants make a mistake, and interrupt free flow of information because one of their politically radical employees has a hissy fit, the consequences for society might be far worse than the consequences of interrupting a legitimate academic discussion about the true origin of a horrible virus.

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November 7, 2021 at 08:19PM

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