China extended its pervasive state censorship, which already blocks numerous websites of foreign news organizations, social media such as Facebook, Twitter and YouTube, and Google’s search engine. It ordered Cambridge University Press to sanitize its academic journal China Quarterly by excising 300 articles on issues like the 1989 Tiananmen Square massacre and ongoing revolts in Tibet, Xinjiang and Hong Kong. The Press complied in mid-August but reversed course after an international outcry from anti-censorship academics, including a threatened boycott.
Capitalist corporations have great difficulty resisting China’s market of over 1.3 billion people. Many tech companies have bowed to government demands to help suppress dissent. Apple removed apps from its App Store in China that help people evade censors and monitoring. Facebook, still blocked in China, is wooing the government and has created a tool to allow a third party to block specific Facebook posts in a given country.
Facebook may itself have become the world’s biggest censor. A ProPublica report (https://www.propublica.org/article/facebook-hate-speech-censorship-internal-documents-algorithms) concluded that “at least in some instances, the company’s hate-speech rules tend to favor elites and governments over grassroots activists and racial minorities.”
While the corporate press reported with much fanfare the banning of some far right accounts from Facebook, Twitter and certain other platforms, none mentioned the years-long history of post deletions and account suspensions of left-wingers.
A Congressman posted “Kill them all” on Facebook about “radicalized” Muslims—no action taken. The neo-Nazi “Alt-Reich Nation,” one of whose members murdered Black college student Richard Collins III, is not banned.
But people who post criticisms of racism and police brutality are frequently blocked.
When journalism professor Stacey Patton asked on Facebook why “it’s not a crime when White freelance vigilantes and agents of ‘the state’ are serial killers of unarmed Black people, but when Black people kill each other then we are ‘animals’ or ‘criminals,’” the post was deleted and her account disabled for three days. When Leslie Mac posted, “White folks. When racism happens in public—YOUR SILENCE IS VIOLENCE,” her account was disabled until she got publicity.
Despite thousands of accurate complaints that user Donald Trump’s posts on Twitter and Facebook violate their policies, no action is forthcoming.
But Ukrainians, Western Saharans, and Kashmiris protesting occupations by Russia, Morocco, and India, respectively, have found themselves blocked. Palestinian groups created the hashtag #FbCensorsPalestine to show how routinely they are blocked—not only in the Middle East but in the U.S.
Despite such heavy-handed censorship, tech companies have utterly failed in their highly publicized efforts to rein in sexist, racist cyberbullying, which has excluded women and people of color from many corners of the web that by no coincidence have incubated the far right culture that expressed itself so clearly in Charlottesville, Va.
Like all technology, the web, hailed 25 years ago by some on the Left as the tool that would democratize culture and bring liberation, is a product of the society in which it was created. What happened in the Arab Spring was no “Twitter revolution” but the creativity of the masses seizing on whatever means were available to aid revolt. What gives voice to liberation is not technology but the self-activity of masses in motion and organizations based not on profit but on the philosophy of liberation.