I can tell you — as so many others can — that social media is not “silencing conservative voices”. In other words, if you spread dangerous lies about the election or vaccinations, or called for insurrection, and coincidentally (or not) you are a Trump supporter, frankly, you’re not special. It doesn’t take much for ANYONE to get suspended. A friend even had his photo of a flower tagged as nudity. Certain memes and even a single word taken out of context can trigger their algorithm, especially if someone reports you.
Last Fall, I made a comment that mask-free voting was available at the polls the day after voting ended. Was I joking? Or was I hoping that people mask-outraged via stupidity and childish defiance would fall for it and spare us their (likely ignorant) vote? One person did comment, after all, “it’s good to know” before Facebook took it down. I think it was a 24-hour ban for that.
I also made a flippant comment about someone needing to shoot someone in the face after declaring themselves the winner of an election they lost. Facebook criteria require that a threat or call for violence be actionable rather than just talking smack, and that was before what happened on January 6th taught us that people actually do rise to violence from people’s social media posts. The only difference was I am not an “influencer” or famous person people have openly said they would die (and kill) for. Two-day ban.
But what about capital punishment? I am firmly against it as a rule, especially given the increasing number of death row exonerations thanks to DNA and growing evidence of widespread errors and corruption on the part of police and lawyers. But I do believe it is appropriate for some who are too dangerous to exist incarcerated, such as organized criminals whose influence does not diminish even if they do fail to stay completely above the law. Unlike even the most horrific violent crimes, there are actions that affect society on a vast scale in ways that defy concepts of compensation, punishment, or rehabilitation. In this milieu falls crimes of treason, which last I checked is punishable by death.
Facebook doesn’t care about that. So many people have been jailed — myself included — for being too obvious about wanting the full penalty of treason carried out against one or more individuals. But then we remember the image burned in our minds of the makeshift gallows intended for Pence, surrounded by Rebel flags, anti-Semitic t-shirts, OAN banners, QAnon signs, memorabilia of all kinds emblazoned with one man’s name, and crosses and bibles just to round things out. The only difference was some of us don’t want political purgings or partisan jailings — we want a due process for crimes independent of parties and political agendas. This is a distinction lost on the censors who at least rightfully, and successfully, quelled the former.
I am now down for the count for a full 7 days (possibly extended from 3 days for daring to object). I didn’t give the above context to my words that there were enough rope and trees for all traitorously criminal politicians. Do I mean it literally? Given that it is likely impossible I and the people who see my comment could carry out such a thing, I want to say it’s doubtful I meant it or it should even matter if I did. People say things like this all the time and don’t think of it as a serious statement above blowing off steam. But now we live among cray-cray, conspiracy-driven, extremist masses such that my gaffes or offhand musings might actually make the world a more dangerous place.
So in moments of admitted hypocrisy, I have reported a few comments that were arguably as innocuous as my own. Then again, I have reported full-blown racist calls for genocide and had Facebook tell me it doesn’t violate their standards. The system has always been arbitrary by its flawed design, but since Trump’s tweets nearly started a civil war in the last year, the degree of flagging and tagging must be at fever pitch. Most people I know have been hit with Facebook jail at least once. Sure, my bigoted acquaintances were hit many times over the years at no surprise, and my conspiracy-riddled acquaintances have been fact-checked to death starting last year. But now people defending themselves against racism sometimes get caught in the matrix just for the words they repeat.
This last year has uber-challenged my notions of censorship, free speech, and the role of social media. In one sense, they may have saved the country. Fake news about both the virus and elections dropped by over 75% the moment one key person was banned from Twitter. And 2020 has taught us that lies and delusions can be deadly and threaten even our Republic. Because of all this, I must accept that all threats are “credible” in the eyes of gatekeepers, even my own rhetoric which is borne from a predominantly pacifistic heart unseen to them.
I am left with questions I can only answer myself. Are my comments on social media making the world a better place, or a worse one? Can society be trusted to overcome blunt interpretations of pointed but nuanced arguments that I may make? And most of all, it is making me a better person, or more jaded and even leaning toward an equal but opposite extremism? I am still for free speech, but with sane limits. Call me an anarchist or an American, but I don’t want corporations OR governments OR media companies to control the public commons. Yet here we are. Like my more Liberal or more Conservative friends, I’m going to have to navigate this brave new world and decide if it will curb my temerity or inform my conscience. And like Facebook, I will have to judge on a case by case basis — and hopefully do a better job than they do.