How Facebook May Be Violating Your First Amendment Rights (Part 1)

Picture this scenario . . .

Within your main Facebook comment stream a current and contentious event is brought to light by many people.

It appears that the vast majority are advocating or supporting a particular position.

If you don't Agree with me then you are spamming!

Based on your extensive research you find that all may not be as it appears in terms of the facts surrounding the story and as such you offer a dissenting voice that contradicts mainstream thinking.  In an effort to provide the data or research upon which your opinion is based, you include links to supporting reference material including articles you yourself have written.

Neither the articles or for that matter the nature of your comments are rude or inherently offensive, in fact you make every effort to be respectful of the opinions expressed by those who do not share your views.

Over the next few days, and to a certain extent based on yours as well as the feedback of others, it turns out that the views and related conclusions you had offered up for consideration turn out to be accurate resulting in many changing their previously held opinion.

Of course even if it turned out that the mainstream thinking was indeed reflective of the true nature of the situation, the important point in this exercise is that through an open and transparent dialogue all parties to the discussion gained additional insight that ultimately led to a greater understanding.

This was the case with the Kony 2012 video.

Interestingly enough, the blog post to which I had provided the link supporting my position that we were perhaps being played was read close to 900 times in a little less than 4 hours – with major newspapers such as the Telegraph providing a comment link-back.

At this point, the story one would think would end here except . . .

Not long afterwards I received a warning from Facebook indicating that I had been submitting “Spammy” messages and as a result they were suspending my ability to enter comments for a period of time.

They then added that if I persist with this practice they would close my account.

Now I am of the opinion that if someone is using the social networking mediums to put in links to products or services in which there is no connection with the subject matter being discussed, then this would certainly warrant such action.  For example, if a connection in response to the Kony 2012 video included in their comment a link to where one could buy cheap shoes, then this would obviously be rightfully categorized as SPAM.

However I neither sell a product or a service, and the reference link that I included – which again countless publications from mainstream media considered to be relevant to the topic itself, represented sound research and reporting practices.

So why then was I targeted as someone who submits SPAM content?

There are only one of two logical reasons for this.

To start, and I what I consider to be the most plausible, is that my position was both contradictory to what at the time was the general consensus and therefore was met with incredible hostility in which everything from my motives to overall IQ was called into question.

To these individuals, an inclusion of a link back to my blog would be seen as perhaps a direct threat to their closely held beliefs and as such they might very well be inclined to block or remove my comment and report me as a Spammer.  I happen to know for a fact that one particularly vociferous individual who at first supported the Kony 2012 video only to a few days later recanted his position through the acknowledgement that what myself and others were saying did in fact accurately reflect the situation, unfriended me.

Alternatively and sadly, there are also those in the mainstream media such as the Ottawa Citizen or Regina Leader-Post who, like Rupert Murdoch, view information and news in a proprietary light, and the emergence of citizen journalism as a real and present threat to their empires.  As a result and unlike forward thinking publications such as the New York Times, Washington Post, Harvard Business Review and Huffington Post to name just a few either prevent or remove comments in which there is a supporting link provided.

As with individuals, the owners of these media accounts can also report you.

Once again, I believe that it is very likely one and or both of the above submitting complaints that led to the Facebook warning.  Sadly, and this is a problem with Facebook, there is no ready means by which such complaints can be challenged.  As I discovered, Facebook does not even provide a basic vehicle through which you can contact them to obtain details surrounding your receipt of a warning.

This leads to many potential issues including a possible violation of First Amendment Rights.

For those who have been following me in both my blogs and related radio show, I have often times taken a firm stance regarding the questionable use of First Amendment Rights as a means of justifying bad or questionable behavior in articles such as Are First Amendment Rights Becoming The Ultimate Excuse For Bad Behavior?, The Constitution is not a Suicide Pact: The questions and perhaps answers regarding The Serial Suicide Killer’s First Amendment Rights can be found in a statement by Abraham Lincoln and Wayne Crookes’ lawsuits disconcerting and perhaps even frivolous, but are they a necessary exercise in the establishment of Internet accountability?

However, what is most problematic with Facebook is that someone can report you as a Spammer for having nothing more than a differing opinion.  In essence, Facebook whether by accident or design (and I will touch on this latter point in a moment) does not seem to have the capacity to differentiate between someone selling knockoff products versus expressing a well thought-out opinion supported by thorough research.

Facebook after all is no longer the campus meet and greet dating site it was in its formative years.  Thus the rules governing interactive content have to change to reflect its global reach and the all encompassing subject matter that flows through its virtual environs.

The only question regarding this thought is whether or not this absence of moderative capability is the result of unbridled growth or by design.

In part 2 of this series I will examine more closely the role of social networks in a global society and investigate the potential influences that might seek to harness the open and transparent exchange of information.

In the meantime, have you experienced censorship either through a warning such as the one I received or by other means within Facebook or for that matter any other social network?

Remember to also tune in to my show on March 30th at 9:00 PM EST as I will be opening the chat room and phone lines to hear your thoughts regarding the big question . . . “To what extent does censorship exist in the social networking world?


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