It is hardly a secret that Facebook has grown and is growing by leaps and bounds. Some who cover tech think that Facebook is in trouble, but the data tells a different story. Just in the last six months, it has a net gain of nearly 10 million users and there is no sign it is slowing. Yes, it is a force to be reckoned within social media circles.
As it continues to grow in popularity, however, many think that it is compromising the principles on which it was founded. A case in point: There are recent reports of possible collusion with the Israeli government, to the detriment of the government’s detractors and sworn enemies. This raises the question of what is Facebook’s goal in such an alliance? Is it money. A desire to curry favorr with the Israeli government? Or is there more to it?
Regardless, FB finds itself in the news and not for the right reasons. There are a few controversies brewing. It began with Facebook’s posting of an iconic image with which I was very familiar.
As an impressionable 20-year-old, I was an ardent patriot and avowed supporter of the US’s involvement in Vietnam and the nearly decade-long war. But the photo of the nude young Vietnamese girl after a napalm attack in 1971, seen in news releases and magazines of the day, sent shivers down my spine – shivers that reverberated throughout the world’s psyche.
Its appearance helped to hasten the end of that conflict. Under pressure for the recent posting of the photo, which it quickly took down because it violated its “no child nudity” policy, Facebook ran afoul of politicians, pundits and activists around the globe for its temerity. Facebook has no right to this kind of control over what we can or cannot see, they claimed.
Facebook is courting controversy again in some recent dealings with the Israeli government that is raising the hackles of some activists according to Glenn Greenwald in the Intercept. Greenwald cites the Associated press, which recently reported from Jerusalem that,
“The Israeli government and Facebook have agreed to work together to determine how to tackle incitement on the social media network.”
The AP goes on to say that these meetings are taking place “as the government pushes ahead with legislative steps meant to force social networks to rein in content that Israel says incites violence.” On the face of it (no pun intended), Facebook seems to be bending toward the legislative leanings of a country (Israel) in order to curry favor or gain some future advantage.
This development, taken in the context of recent developments in Israeli surveillance of Palestinians and takedown requests of their Facebook posts, bodes ill for freedom of speech and expression.
“Over the past four months, Israel submitted 158 requests to Facebook to remove contentious content” and Facebook has accepted those requests in 95 percent of the cases” according to a reliable official source.
This is an interesting about-face for Israel, which apparently has no qualms about using Facebook and other social media when it suits its purposes in order to bolster its position – such as when Israeli settlers are attacked. The Army (IDF) has also utilized outlets including Facebook to rally support for its actions. But this is not an article about tit-for-tit, but more about what’s right and wrong.
What is very wrong is that Facebook, a public profit-making company, is apparently allowing itself to be beholden to the highest bidder – in this case, the deep-pocketed Israel. But what is even more worrisome is that a company that should be in the business of free speech and objectivity has set itself up as the arbiter of what should or should not be made public.
A company with the social media punch of a Facebook could be subject to manipulation for propagandistic ends, and therefore should not be in the business of abetting state-sponsored censorship. This collaboration with Israel underscores the severe dangers of having our public discourse overtaken, regulated, and controlled by a tiny number of unaccountable tech giants.
What’s worse, it may invite retaliatory regulation to impede it, and, in the process, free speech and privacy may suffer also.