Why would Facebook be blocking attempts to link the website www.j30strike.org, claiming that this link has been identified as spammy or abusive? Perhaps it is a technical error or perhaps a user-orchestrated attempt at preventing publicity (see campaign funding if you don’t understand how this works), but it is also just as likely at this time that Facebook itself is blocking attempts at organization due to political motivations.
This is not completely new, as attempts have been made in the past to stifle Palestinian organization and protest using the same feature. Hasbara, the informal Israeli corps of internet thugs who badger discussion on issues relating to Palestine, are known for engaging in tactics that will have a discussion or article censored.
Yet the J30 strike is not something that focuses on a protest in Ramallah, it is a movement to organize a national public strike in one of the richest and most powerful countries on earth.
What is needed at this time is as follows:
1. Facebook should announce whether it has made an administrative decision to block certain politically-motivated pages or links or whether there is a feature available that is being utilized to let users engage in mass-censorship. Of course, it has no obligation to do this and I suspect that even if it does respond, it will not provide a clear and transparent answer.
2. There needs to be a serious re-assessment of social media and its part in fomenting social change. If the company can be utilized to censor political activity, serious efforts need to be made to evaluate the kinds of criteria that will allow it to be “social media-friendly”. Egypt, Syria, Tunisia = Good, UK = Bad? Is social media being used to lend legitimacy to political trends?
In addition, recent revelations of “identity forgeries” on the internet (see: Amina Abdallah and “her” blog, Gay Girl in Damascus) must make us re-evaluate the idea of actual human representation online. If humans can have their identities “hacked” to push a social or political agenda through blogs, is it so much to assume they could also be hijacked and used to cast votes or “likes” online, to report “abusive” material?
While social media can undoubtedly provide inspiration and tactical strategy, it is still something that is privately owned and traded. Facebook itself is valued at incredible numbers – anywhere from $100 billion to 500 billion dollars – and few ask if the people Facebook bases its value on are even real people with real opinions. Perhaps the most important question is one we must ask ourselves: can private companies really be trusted as reliable stewards of our political development? Does the medium of online discourse really assure you freedom, democracy, or individuality?
Edit: I was recently passed along this link to a BBC article, showing that Facebook has offered to “support … in any way we can” the UK government’s efforts to cut domestic spending. Sort of strange to engage the help of a 26 year old American billionaire in selling off the future of UK youth?
Downing Street has released footage of a video conference between David Cameron and Mark Zuckerberg as it emerged that the government will seek ideas on spending cuts through a tie-up with Facebook.
The prime minister thanked Mr Zuckerberg for his involvement, while the Facebook founder said he felt it was a great way to “engage the public to create social change”.