How did you find the last article you read online? Chances are, you saw it on a social media platform. Social media is a part of our everyday lives—we use it not just for keeping up with our friends and family but for keeping up with current events.
That is why it is troubling that certain social media platforms like Facebook and YouTube are becoming increasingly hostile to certain points of view.
Take, for example, Robert Gagnon—a writer and former associate professor at Pittsburgh Theological Seminary. Gagnon decided to comment on a video from the Canadian Broadcast Corporation (CBC) on Facebook, only to find his account locked and his comment removed from public view.
“I learned that Facebook blocked me for 24 hours,” wrote Gagnon on The Federalist, “They made my post visible only to my eyes and fixed things so that I could not comment on my own FB page or even send communications through private FB messaging.”
According to the policies that Facebook uses to police its “community standards”—a 27-page document of guidelines Facebook published in April 2018—Gagnon’s comment was “hate speech.”
So, what terrible hateful thing did Gagnon say? He responded to a CBC video pitching same-sex marriage and relationships to children.
The video in question featured CBC television personality Jessi Cruickshank asking kids around the age of 6 questions like “Are you gay allies?,” “What does it mean to come out of the closet?,” and “Do you think it would be cool to have two moms?”
Gagnon’s comment pointed out multiple concerns with asking kids leading questions about same-sex relationships: “Brought to you by the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation, the Canadian equivalent to our PBS, paid for by tax dollars,” he wrote. “No indoctrination going on here (or on PBS), right?”
Ironically, Facebook decided to counter Gagnon’s comment about potential Orwellian indoctrination by deleting his comment because his views did not match Facebook’s.
YouTube, on the other hand, allowed users to see ads from groups who believe that marriage is the union of a man and a woman, but now they’re apologizing for it. In a series of tweets, the platform apologized to users for “inappropriate ads” and promised that they have “taken action on the ads that violate our policies.”
The ads were from pro-marriage organizations. According to YouTube, allowing ads from such organizations could make some feel “unsafe” or “unequal.” But I would argue that if hearing non-violent, respectful speech from a different viewpoint makes you feel “unsafe,” it is not the speech that is the problem.
It is not just certain views on sexuality that are censored on social media cites. During the week of Independence Day, Facebook’s algorithm actually censored the Declaration of Independence. A local newspaper in Texas posted passages from the founding document on Facebook in honor of Independence Day but received a notice saying one of their posts violated the website’s “standards on hate speech.”
It is troubling when tech companies in Silicon Valley try to censor speech on their websites. But it is even worse when governments get involved. In 2016, the European Union, in conjunction with tech companies like Facebook, announced a plan to combat “illegal online hate speech” as written into EU law – giving IT companies the authority to censor speech that they deem as “inciting hatred.”
Because there’s no consensus on what that actually means, these companies are left with the power to arbitrarily silence the viewpoints of which they disapprove. And, as we have seen, international policies like these can have an impact on policies right here in the U.S. – something, unfortunately, that we are already seeing happen.
At their best, social media sites like Facebook and YouTube should be forums where everyone can share their opinions or debate pressing issues. Increasingly, higher-ups in Silicon Valley are deciding that not all viewpoints deserve a platform.