Social media companies are under a lot of pressure from the government to censor their users. The President, the FBI, the Department of Homeland Security, Congress, are all calling on Silicon Valley to “keep terrorists and terror-promoting material off the Internet.” And those companies are bowing to the pressure. Earlier this month, Twitter announced that it had shut down 235,000 accounts since February for “violating its policy on violent extremism.”
But on August 1, Facebook took the censorship in a dramatically different direction, deactivating Korryn Gaines’ account as she live-streamed a standoff with the Baltimore police.
And Facebook did it at the request of the Baltimore police.
Police explained to the media that they had to do it to protect their officers and Gaines’ five year old son because Gaines’ “followers were encouraging her not to comply with negotiators’ request that she surrender peacefully.” But shortly after Facebook shut down her feed, the police killed her and injured her son.
In a letter to Facebook signed by BORDC/DDF and 41 other groups, we asked the company to “institute a policy regarding the censorship of content and video that protects individual civil liberties and is transparent and accountable to the public.” and noted:
Facebook broadcasting is one of the most powerful tools in the world for documenting police brutality and raising awareness of the scale and systemic nature of police misconduct. Increasingly, this platform isn’t just a place where news is shared within social networks, but a platform where news is broken. If your company agrees to censor people’s accounts at the request of police – thereby allowing the police to control what the public sees on Facebook – then it is part of the problem.
Law enforcement and intelligence agencies will continue to pressure social media companies to help them “fight crime and terrorism” by censoring their users. It’s essential that we push back, against both the government attempts to censor, and the social media companies’ compliance.
Sign the SumofUs petition asking Facebook to clarify their position on censorship here