OPINION | This article contains political commentary which reflects the author's opinion.
A friend of mine recently sent me a screenshot of a notification that popped up on her Facebook. She said, “I assume they’re referring to you because you’re the only person I know who posts things that the Facebook people don’t want me to see.”
It turns out Facebook has been sending notifications warning of extremist content and offering “support.”
Facebook notifying some users “you may have been exposed to harmful extremist content recently” with a new notice and link for “support from experts” pic.twitter.com/ICvJutGx9x
— Brendan Gutenschwager (@BGOnTheScene) July 1, 2021
Side note, 2020 made me very wary of so-called “experts” in pretty much anything. This is another one of those things where I ask, “who decides that you’re an “expert” and how did they determine it? How do I know you aren’t simply being elevated to “expert” status because you said what the right people wanted to hear?” People said Fauci was an “expert” and that dude is as clueless and politically driven as they come. So when Facebook says they’re partnering with “experts” in this field, I scoff. It could just as easily be a Facebook tech or a political groupie who took a survey to make sure they had the “right” political interpretation of extremism, and then certified as “experts,” who are probably being overseen by a radical woke progressive individual who is the product of a life in leftist academia.
This Facebook notification and my friend’s assumptions about it don’t surprise me in the least. I’m sure I’m one of the “extremist” that Facebook is worried about, because I post a lot of things that they would prefer people didn’t see. I’m a decidedly conservative voice who isn’t afraid to post uncomfortable or unflattering truths because I am not beholden to any particular entity who could punish me for the things I post (like a job that could fire me). I figured I’d just steer into the skid with my new profile pic. At least then I’m forewarning all prospective viewers, right?
Facebook does lots of little things to prevent me from sharing information and stories that they would rather people didn’t find out about. About 9 times out of 10 I’ll click to post a draft of something I have written and Facebook will spend a lot of time posting it to my page. Just before it finishes and posts, I’ll get an error message saying that there was a problem, and the page then automatically reloads and discards my post. For this reason, I always have to copy my posts somewhere else for when Facebook “accidentally” deletes it. It happens on different devices and different networks. It’s like they run an algorithm on the posts coming from my account before allowing them to be posted, and if they decide they don’t like it, they accidentally delete it hoping I won’t bother reposting it. I always bother.
Most of my posts don’t share properly, either. Facebook often won’t let my commentary be shared along with whatever media I include in my posts (links, videos, pictures…). People have taken to copying and pasting my words to include in their own post when they don’t share properly, but it doesn’t get attributed to me. I’m not overly concerned about that because I mostly just want the information out there. But Facebook works hard to hamper that objective and make the sharing of my content more difficult and less effective.
I also have people message me all the time saying that they happened to go to my Facebook page and discovered that I had made dozens of posts, none of which they had seen on their pages for days or weeks, even though they’ve taken steps to give my content priority on their feeds. Facebook algorithms just don’t allow my posts to be visible to people.
So here’s my question. What qualifies as an “extremist,” and who gets to decide that?
Facebook techs? Algorithms designed by those techs? The CEO of Facebook? Who decides? And what criteria do they use to decide whether or not I’m an extremist who is posting extremist content?
I’ll remind you that we just celebrated Independence Day because there were a bunch of men, who would have been considered “extremists,” who decided to free the nation from tyranny. By today’s standards, Facebook would have considered Thomas Paine as an extremist and would have definitely censored Common Sense. Perhaps they would have removed the content of his article, added various “fact checks” to it, to simply buried it with algorithms so that people weren’t ever really seeing it. Luckily for our nation, the Big Tech overlords weren’t in charge of deciding what speech was acceptable and what speech was “dangerous.”
Now, as I said earlier, I’m not beholden to any particular entity who could punish me for posting what Facebook considers “extremist” content. But my husband is in the military, and he is beholden. While he doesn’t ever post on social media, it certainly concerns me that my social media presence could affect him. This became more concerning when the Pentagon announced a planned program to monitor the social media of military personnel in order to find “extremist material.”
Again I ask, what constitutes “extremist material,” and who gets to decide that? I’ve seen what I consider some pretty extreme material coming from the top brass in the military. Some pretty extremist required reading lists, some shockingly extremist statements, and various politically extremist actions and priorities. So why do they get to decide that my words and actions are extremist and theirs aren’t?
This is why the First Amendment is so incredibly important. This is why those “extremists” from the 1700s were so intent on creating a free nation with rights and liberties. Once you give a certain group the power to police the speech of others, you effectively silence any dissenting views. “Extremist” becomes anything you believe is destructive to your favored narrative, similar to what has happened to “racist.” It gets watered down and politicized, and it loses its meaning except in the context of being wielded as a political weapon.
And it’s a slippery slope. Once you allow the restriction of speech for a few, even if you think they deserve it, who’s to say you haven’t just set the precedent for the restriction of your speech? At some point, someone will think you deserve it and they’ll restrict you the way you allowed others to be restricted.
Here’s a real life example.
Sir Stevo Timothy didn’t see a problem with the censorship and speech restrictions on social media. He felt like they were warranted. Like only bad speech was being censored, and it was good that it was being censored, so why were people so upset about it. Until someone decided his speech was bad speech and decided to censor him. Suddenly he was upset and probably wondered who got to decide that his speech was bad speech that should be censored. But he had helped pave the way for that to happen.
Our First Amendment rights protect everyone. Not just those with whom we agree. Not just those who say the things we want to hear. If First Amendment rights are going to protect you, then they must protect all. Otherwise they won’t protect you for very long.