Censorship and Algorithms
December 4, 2021
We see a common trend in the nonpartisan movement of digital wellness as policymakers call for changes within Facebook’s algorithm to better the mental health of youth and reduce the spread of misinformation. In May of 2021, the company began tagging accounts that repeatedly share fact-checker flagged information, expanding penalties to minimize the spread of misinformation, and reframing notifications received when sharing flagged posts. However, facts are not the only content that people wish to curb, for hate speech has been spreading rapidly. But this calls into question a highly subjective censorship process.
“What exactly is considered hate speech?” a student from South Forsyth High School asks.
On that note, who decides what is “appropriate” to post? It is not necessarily the role of Facebook to curate a platform for healthy political discourse or ideological framing at this level. According to its Investor Relations page, “Facebook’s mission is to give people the power to build community and bring the world closer together.” Perhaps, then, some of that responsibility falls to the people. After all, algorithmic changes can only accomplish little if the users themselves nefariously exploit the platform.
For instance, it is beneficial to encourage user discretion or to wait a few more years before giving children access to social media. You would not run up to someone and yell slurs in their face; what makes it acceptable to do online? Why are the rules that govern online interactions more fluid than that of face-to-face ones?
Thus, I began thinking about the benefits of contingencies on user etiquette, but this cycles back to the root of the problem: who decides? Censorship has never been an easy process, as we must consider current power structures and their influence on this practice. But so much is clear: as much we benefit from global interconnectedness, we face the disturbing effects of polarization, addiction, loneliness, and insecurity.
Today, Facebook guides the strings of the puppet show that is our world. Tomorrow, it may be someone or something else. Amidst it all, we must remember to see every side of the spectrum, formulate our opinions carefully, and explore our identities outside the realm of virtual deception.
Disclaimer: The opinions expressed in this piece belong solely to their respective author(s). They do not represent the opinions of South Forsyth High School or Forsyth County Schools.