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Facebook Says I Don’t Exist.

There is a sense of frustration and despondence that accompanies the sudden disappearance of your social media presence.

The Facebook crackdown began after the Christchurch shooting.

In a haphazard attempt to distance itself from the Australian gunman who livestreamed the terror attack on its platform, Zuckerberg and co. purged Australian accounts it deemed affiliated with the “far right.”

Facebook targeted my professional page in its crackdown and stripped from users the ability to share my posts.

Anyone who expressed conservative political viewpoints was targeted. Including those of us who work in politics or use social media for journalism.

Facebook targeted my page in its crackdown, stripping users’ ability to share my posts. They took it a step further by banning links to my website, justifying the censorship with the all too common and non-specific: “it goes against our community guidelines.”

Or, perhaps, less ambiguously: “We don’t like you, but don’t want to take the time to consider, articulate, or justify exactly why, so we’ll just block you instead.”

Mistakenly, I thought it would end there. It didn’t. Left with a crippled social media page and a full suspension on the horizon, I was still grateful I wasn’t entirely erased from the platform.

Instagram messages

Instagram messages

Last week, I awoke to a string of messages from a friend on Twitter. My Instagram – a subsidiary of Facebook – had all but disappeared overnight.

Friends thought I’d been suspended. I would’ve thought the same had it not been for the fact I could still access my account. I received more questions throughout the day about the sudden disappearance of my profile. It was neither viewable by the public, nor could you even find it in the search results.

Screenshots poured in of my invisible account. My usually high levels of engagement were dead. I realized this wasn’t isolated. It wasn’t a glitch. My Facebook punishment had finally spilled over to Instagram.

My account was still visible to me. It just didn’t exist for anyone else.

Sydney Watson Instagram profile says "user not found"

Sydney Watson Instagram profile

There is a sense of frustration and despondence that accompanies the sudden disappearance of your social media presence, especially when your work depends on your profile online.

There’s little you can do, and social media giants offer little in the way of remedy. An all-out ban gives a person the opportunity to appeal the decision, regardless if there is any success in that process.

Being shadowbanned like I’ve been is a different situation entirely.

For starters, you can’t authoritatively say you’re banned.

You are free to use your account, you can continue to post all you like – but to no one. Without an audience, you speak into the void.

Censorship graffiti

Creative Commons

With all the heat directed at Big Tech over their censorship of conservatives, this raises the question: is this the new ban?

If you’re conservative and find yourself suppressed in any way, it’s more than likely deliberate.

There’s no longer a question over the possibility that these occurrences are simply a “bug” or a “system glitch” — common excuses provided by social media platforms in previous instances of censorship. The constant and ongoing muzzling of conservatives makes that too incredible to consider.

If you’re conservative and find yourself suppressed in any way, it’s more than likely deliberate.

While many of us rely on anecdotes to illustrate the ongoing censorship campaign, it isn’t hard to see the contrast in Big Tech’s treatment of liberals and conservatives.

In truth, you need only look at prominent liberal voices like Kathy Griffin to see the patent disparity.

Earlier this year, the comedienne asked her Twitter followers to dox the boys involved in the Covington High School debacle. Despite being in clear violation of the terms of service, Twitter kept her on remain the platform. She didn’t receive so much as a slap on the wrist.

Similarly, New York Times editor Sarah Jeong was spared descent into online obscurity when a series of her racially discriminatory tweets came to light. She became infamous, but it only grew her online presence.

Conservatives are banned for less.

The problem with censorship graffiti

Credit: Cory Doctorow (Creative Commons. Flickr.)

Most Americans share these observations.

A survey by the Pew Research Center in 2018 confirmed that some 72 per cent of Americans believe that Big Tech platforms censor political views with which they disagree. When compounded with testimony from social media employees themselves, who readily admit to censoring right-wing voices, the case is damning.

As old, traditional avenues of news and journalism exit-stage-right, new media has stepped in to take its place.

Social media is essential to sharing information and the functionality of journalism.

These platforms are direct sources for sharing and receiving news and discussing current affairs; or even extending a social hand to others operating in the same space. The discourse that was once reserved to face-to-face interactions now largely takes place online.

While Facebook, Instagram and Twitter began with the stated purpose of connecting people in a familial sense, their roles have changed over time.

Facebook feeds are dominated by news and current affairs. Twitter is almost exclusively used for politics, journalism, culture, and media. Instagram still maintains its original purpose as a photographic platform of food, cute animals, and models, but it too is changing.

Political accounts – on both the left and the right – appear daily, posting memes, headlines and news.

George Orwell's 1984

George Orwell’s 1984

As traditional avenues of news and journalism exit-stage-right, new media has stepped in. That said, we would never have allowed newspapers or television stations to block conservatives from accessing their services, so why do we stand back while social media platforms do exactly that?

Make no mistake, Big Tech has its own political agenda, intent on moderating your speech, and through this, your thought.

The problem with new media is that where once you had the opportunity to discuss, object, debate, and argue over the direction of society or the topics of the day, you now have systems of censorship controlled by oppressive monopolies.

Make no mistake, Big Tech has its own political agenda, intent on moderating your speech, and through this, your thought.

It’s an everyday occurrence, and it affects accounts both big and small across every major platform. While I expected to eventually run afoul of the agenda, I didn’t expect to be deplatformed in such an insidious way.

Orwell warned of the dangers posed by authoritarianism surrounding thought crimes and mass surveillance.

We now have to decide how these titanic tech monopolies behave, or else they’ll decide how we do.

Sydney Watson is an Australian/American conservative political commentator.

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