“Masking Children is Impractical and Not Backed by Research or Real World Data.”
Just a few short weeks ago, this seemingly harmless yet politically controversial sentence landed Justin Hart, a social media influencer and data analyst, on the “reported account” list at Facebook. His reported Facebook post will join a queue of tens of thousands of other “politically controversial” posts. Some might not even notice that their posts were reported, while others, like Hart, are well aware that their post have been removed from the platform. These posts will then be screened by what Facebook calls “content moderators,” who are tasked with two “tests”. First, they must decide if the post in question violates Facebook’s “community standards.” Next, they must select the correct reasoning behind why the post violates these standards.
But what are Facebook’s “community standards?”
Facebook “community standards” work to regulate what is and what is not allowed on Facebook. Mark Zuckerberg, Facebook CEO states that “the Facebook company recognizes how important it is for Facebook to be a place where people feel empowered to communicate.” He then goes on to state that standards are “based on feedback from people and the advice of experts in fields like technology, public safety and human rights.” To “ensure everyone’s voice is valued,” Facebook “take[s] great care to create standards that include different views and beliefs, especially from people and communities that might otherwise be overlooked or marginalized.”
So, in reporting the sentence “Masking children is impractical and not backed by research or real-world data,” Facebook’s “content moderators” have decided that Justin Hart’s post is in violation of the company’s “community standards.” Likewise, in reporting the sentence “Masking Children is impractical and not backed by research or real-world data,” Facebook’s “content moderators” have also confirmed that they hardly ensure that “everyone’s voice is valued,” rather, they value “expert” opinion and “expert” opinion only.
The reasoning behind Facebook’s clear value of “expert” opinion proved strikingly clear in mid-July of this year when current president Joe Biden’s press secretary admitted that the Federal Government is flagging content for Facebook to censor (hopefully this did not come as a shock to many). According to the White House press secretary, Jen Psaki, the government is working with Facebook to flag posts of United States citizens that are “problematic” and contain COVID-19 “misinformation.” The “expert” opinion that Facebook values so highly is the Federal Government and other federal agencies, for example, the CDC.
This collaboration most likely works as a sort of “trade off,” between the government and Facebook as currently, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) is threatening to sue Facebook on the grounds that the platform is partaking in a variety of anticompetitive behaviors, such as restricting third party developers, in order to maintain its dominance. The manipulation doesn’t end here, however, as Psaki also admitted to pressuring Facebook to press the government’s preferred sources of ‘quality information’ by means of the newsfeed as well as its algorithms. In attempt to avoid this lawsuit against the FCT, Facebook has basically found itself at the mercy of the Federal Government. In other words, any information posted on Facebook that does not align itself with the Biden administration, whether it is about COVID-19 or not, will most likely be reported. In fact, you probably won’t even realize that your post has been reported unless you frequently check if it is still available on the platform.
Justin Hart, the individual who shared the post regarding masking children, was sure that his post would most likely be reported, and when his post was no longer available on Facebook due to a “violation of community standards,” he decided to take action. Just two weeks ago, the Liberty Justice Center which is a public-interest law firm, filed a law suit in California on Hart’s behalf against Facebook and President Joe Biden on the grounds of a violation of his First Amendment right to free speech. His lawsuit states that the federal government is “colluding with social media companies to monitor, flag, suspend and delete social media posts it deems ‘misinformation.’”
Unfortunately, as many lawyers have pointed out, Hart does not have any merit, for tech platforms like Facebook are private companies; the First Amendment does not apply to them. However, the First Amendment does apply to the government’s ability to prohibit free speech. Yet, again, according to many lawyers, the government isn’t technically banning free speech in removing Hart’s posts (via Facebook’s content moderators), but they are prohibiting individuals from “spreading misinformation,” as well as “speech that presents an immediate danger.” Lawyers relate Hart’s Facebook post about the illogicalness of masking children to Scheneck v. United States, 249 U.S. 47 (1919), when Justice Holmes’s observed that a person cannot falsely yell fire in a crowded theatre.
While this parallel makes little sense, it does prove that the law contains an enormous number of loopholes, loopholes that the government is capitalizing off of in order to ensure and further their ultimate authority. While the outcome of this lawsuit is indefinite, and might even result in a loss on behalf of Hart, the citizens of the United States should not lay down in their battle of free speech, even if their opinions are not deemed as “expert” by Facebook.