For years, social media companies have made it very clear that they don’t want their users to access content with which they – or government officials – disagree.
Along with actively censoring speech, platforms like Twitter, Alphabet-owned YouTube, and Meta-owned Facebook and Instagram deploy more subtle strategies of down-ranking and flagging disfavored content.
That’s what has taken place recently, as Meta has weaponized its vague misinformation policy to flag several posts from pro-life advocacy group Live Action. Relying on partisan “fact-checker” PolitiFact, Meta slapped a “mostly false” label on Instagram posts from the pro-life group Live Action throughout May, according to an email from the group.
In one example, PolitiFact claimed a Live Action post about the health risks of the abortion pill was “missing context,” even though it included a citation pulled directly from the FDA’s website and the statement in question was used by other mainstream new outlets. According to Meta’s policies, the label restricts Live Action’s overall reach, and these posts will appear lower on people’s feed.
But while PolitiFact nitpicked about the exact language they wanted from Live Action, their so-called “independent” fact-check relied on information from a pro-abortion advocacy group.
Even after Live Action responded to Meta with detailed responses and clear evidence showing that the “fact checks” were incorrect, the flag remained.
The ideological censorship Meta’s policy allows for is clear. While Live Action’s detailed responses fell on deaf ears, Planned Parenthood and other pro-abortion accounts remained free to post their own views and advertisements for abortion-inducing drugs. In one egregious instance of bias, a photo of extracted fetal tissue was falsely billed as a photo of an unborn child and went viral across several social media platforms. Yet no labels were applied to this blatantly false and misleading image.
Facebook’s one-sided labeling displays an apparent lack of viewpoint diversity within its content moderation teams, which is ill-suited for a platform with 2.96 billion users from a variety of political and religious persuasions. In addition to addressing its internal lack of viewpoint diversity, Meta needs to correct course at the policy level in order to better serve its users and respect everyone’s right to free speech. Meta claims that its policies “include different views and beliefs, especially from people and communities that might otherwise be overlooked or marginalized.” But in practice, Meta’s misinformation policies can be easily used to censor any number of persons or statements that powerful people don’t like.
And this is hardly the first time that Meta has targeted or limited the reach of factually correct posts because they were not politically correct. Meta’s targeting of Live Action follows upon a flood of information from the #TwitterFiles and other evidence that social media companies are working hand-in-glove with the government to crack down on discussions and censor speech on their platforms.
Social media doesn’t have to be this way. Instead of embracing censorship, Social media companies should use their unique position to respect viewpoint diversity and freedom of expression on their platforms. Viewpoint Diversity Score has developed a roadmap for policies that acknowledge and respect people’s right to free and open debate on their platforms – as well as a survey that allows platforms to be more transparent about their practices.
It’s time for Tech companies to go back to their original promise – facilitating connection – and stop trying to control and limit today’s important debates.