Facebook has no right to censor politicians – or anyone else, really

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Something important is happening on Facebook. We should all take note. Mainly because using this app is as natural as breathing and it shouldn’t be.

According to a report on The Verge, the social media giant is applying a set of terms and conditions that all of us regular users have to observe to political figures.

To wit, if a politician – be they the president of the United States, a dictator prepared to hijack a pane to snare a blogger they have a problem with, or – you know – you, violates the platform’s terms and conditions, Facebook is prepared to step in and (drum roll please) moderate.

Facebook’s new policy – what does it mean?

What this means is currently up in the air. Can a politician be banned from the platform if they post something that is racist? Can they be banned for anti-Semitism? Can they be banned for inciting a riot? Can they be banned for spreading conspiracy theories, hearsay or any other information that is demonstrably untrue? And who the hell is moderating all of this potential content?

It’s not like Facebook has self-policed itself to this extent in the past.

In fact, in the past, Zuck’s company was quite willing to allow political figures to post whatever the hell they liked. The shield it used to use was that no matter language, the point of view, the missive that a political figure used, it was still news-worthy. Now that shield is gone. And us peons are still in the dark about with this means.

Wait and see

We wait while Facebook sorts its life out. The information we require should have come alongside the policy change. The fact that it didn’t should send red flags flying.

Facebook’s motto – well, if Mark Zuckerberg is to be believed – has always been “move fast and break things”. The social media giant has certainly proved its mettle in this regard. Every time this company has run into an obstacle – be it a new law it doesn’t like, a riot that was mobilised through its platform or user data that was scraped being sold on the dark web – its immediate reaction has been to attempt to run over the news cycle. When this hasn’t been possible, it’s simply shifted blame.

It’s a stance that doesn’t just look arrogant anymore. It looks untenable.

Is the law coming?

The last thing anyone wants is government oversight on the world’s most powerful communication platform – but it looks like it’s coming. And Facebook should really take stock of this.

This is a company that has been operating in a digital Wild West. Its safety net has always been that lawmakers don’t really know what to do with it. Rather than help these people out, Facebook has been content to let things run as they are. The problem the company now faces is that people with their hands on the levers of power are finally waking up.

Facebook has just announced that political figures will have to obey the same terms and conditions on the platform that everyone else does. Is this a move that levels the playing field? Should a political figure be subject to the same rules that us rank-and-file citizens are? Does this move take away a close-lens view on the political figures on our spectrum?

And who is Facebook to make this decision anyway?

It looks like what it is: a company who is about to run into legislation and this is the last gasp it has. Already there are idiots trying to violate the US constitution with Facebook in their crosshairs. It won’t work, but it’s a signifier of things to come.

Facebook is now the biggest communication platform on the planet. But its owners, coders and PR folk are still trying to sell it to us like it’s part of 21st Century Life.

It’s not. It shouldn’t be. It’s now in the business of censoring politicians. We should be worried.

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I've been writing about tech and games for around 20 years. Been playing games since I was tall enough to reach the controls on an arcade machine. Old enough to remember when games weren't something people yelled at each other about.

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