Often repeated is the age old riddle that if a tree falls in the woods and no one is there to hear it, does it make a sound? Despite the obvious assumption that it does indeed make a sound, many argue that if there is no one there to process the sound then they are but empty waves in time and space. So let’s ask the question another way shall we? If a discernible truth is spoken to the world and it isn’t on Facebook or Twitter does it make a sound? If the tree or truth is conservative, there is reason to believe it does not. Facebook has long been accused of suppressing the reach of conservative platforms. Facebook denies it, but as a writer with a decent social media following from a conservative viewpoint I have to say it’s not all the stuff of fairy tales. Recently, Twitter has been accused of getting in on the action by “shadow banning” prominent conservative voices and politicians. They too deny, but it brings up a frightening reality. Namely, the end of free speech by selective omission.
Reaping What We Have Sown
It’s a quote directly from the Bible, but one can hardly expect to sow one thing and reap another. For the past decade, the American citizenry has taken our inalienable right to free speech and the free press for granted. It what appears now to be a wicked ruse, social media promised us more speech. It promised us more free press as the little guy could reach millions. No longer would Americans have to rely on rich networks with malicious agendas to be the only arbiters of truth. Addicted to instant information, users flocked to social media by the billions.
Much like a drug, social media promised a quick and easy high but with a terrible price to pay down the road. As many as 67% of Americans get some of their news from social media with a large percentage stating that this is their only source of news. On the surface that should seem fine as sites like Facebook and Twitter are simply giving you more access to the wide world of news. But what if they didn’t? What if they decided to selectively bring you the news now that you have become dependent on their delivery system? If the world was coming to an end and Facebook didn’t want you to know it would you ever find out? Americans handed the bulk of their information delivery over to two primary corporate entities, Facebook and Twitter. Now that we are more addicted than ever it looks like we are beginning to reap what we have sown.
An Anti-Conservative Bias
For years I’ve run a fairly successful blog where I mused on the happenings of our day. A few million reads later and a sizable social media following, one would expect it can only get better. That’s when what’s known as the “Algorithm Apocalypse” hit and things only got decidedly worse. Claiming that the users wanted more pictures of family and cute kittens, Facebook applied an algorithm change to decide who would see what. Overnight, independent harbingers of information saw their reach into the American public devastated. On an average, less than 2% or one’s followers would ever see the information you put out and that’s if Facebook is being generous.
Slowly but surely, conservative sites began to notice a pattern. It seemed that this algorithm was doing more than applying a universal mathematical concept. The “algorithm” seemed to have a bias and that bias wasn’t friendly towards conservatives. The partisan leaning of Silicon Valley is no surprise to Americans, but Americans were shocked to realize just how dependent we had become on social media for information. The most recent revelation is that Twitter is deciding which politicians and voices pop up in search results. Any guesses as to the political affiliations of those not showing up? Both Facebook and Twitter deny the charge, but with algorithms being proprietary information who is to stop them? More importantly, who would ever know?
Shadow Banning the Future
Shadow banning occurs when, rather than boot a less than desired user, the social media company just makes the post or information only visible to them. Or in the case of Facebook, suppress the reach to a point that any inconvenient truth dies in the social media wilderness. Often times, the user has no idea this has happened to him. Like a slow drip of toxic poison, free speech dies without even knowing it is time to put up a fight. When you control the entire flow of information the reality of this truth is frightening. If Facebook and Twitter don’t want you know the world is on fire it will be too late when you feel the heat.
In some sense, we have done this to ourselves. We have become entirely too reliant on social media and now we are reaping what we have sown. Facebook and Twitter are private organizations free to do as they please. However, without some independent oversight free speech will always be at the mercy of the nefarious “algorithm.” A mathematical entity that decides on its own just what kind of information it will let you see today. Technology tells us this power can be abused and human nature makes it almost a certainty that it will be abused. In no uncertain terms, social media’s shadow banning of conservatives is a threat to free speech for all. After all, if a tree falls in the woods and Facebook or Twitter don’t tell you does it even make a sound?