Facebook shuts off critical feature — and free speech

Long ago, Germans took to burning books that presented ideas deemed subversive to Nazism’s fascist ideology. That was eighty years ago and, as the saying goes, ‘everything old is new again.’

Both the Daily Caller and USA Today have run stories on how Facebook, the world’s largest social media website, has simply shut off a critical feature because Germans were seeing too much ‘right-wing’ information.

If the two cases — though separated by seven or eight decades — seem eerily familiar, there’s a good reason for it:

“Facebook users in Germany complained about seeing posts from far-right groups so often that the social media platform temporarily turned off a a feature that allows people to discover news stories, USA Today reports.

A group of activists have been using Facebook’s targeting features to push right-wing content to supporters of centrist Prime Minister Angela Merkel leading up to nation-wide elections Sunday, Sandro Gaycken, founder and director of the Digital Society Institute located in Berlin, Germany, told USA Today.

“It’s really strange because Facebook says this should be impossible because you are only supposed to get recommendations based on your own ‘friends,’ ‘groups’ and ‘likes.’ But everyone in Germany is getting these right-wing party recommendations,” Gaycken said.

“Even left-wing journalists” were seeing the unwanted posts, Gaycken said.

Facebook said in a statement that the complaints from Germany were related to the website’s “Groups Discover” feature. Facebook turned off the “news and politics” in the “Discover” tab pending more investigation, USA Today reported.

Some suspected the trollish Facebook behavior was coming from Russian operatives, but “so far we have not been able to track down any specific Russian activity,” Simon Hegelich, political science professor at the Technical University of Munich said.

“A lot of the stuff we are seeing in Germany can be linked to, or is at least inspired by, the ‘alt-right’ movement in the U.S.,” Hegelich said, according to USA Today.

The activity appears to come from within Germany, and the closing of the feature only affects German Facebook users at present.

German lawmakers approved a law that would fine social media platforms $57 million if it didn’t remove “obviously illegal” content from user pages. Facebook initially opposed the law, saying it would create “an incentive to delete content that is not clearly illegal when social networks face such a disproportionate threat of fines.”

After the law passed, Facebook said it is committed to fighting online hate speech …”

Note some common themes here — the Russians, the ‘alt-right’, hate-speech. Sound familiar?

Heaven forbid we allow people to come into contact with news or information they don’t like.  This is all very, very reminiscent of attitudes and actions that embroiled the entire globe in war.  German lawmakers have given themselves the ability to fine companies for not removing “obviously illegal” content.

Who makes the laws which determine what’s “obviously illegal?”  The same German lawmakers!

And this sneakily-inserted line ought to give all cause for concern, “…the closing of the feature only affects German Facebook users … at present.”

[NOTE: This article was written by Derrick Wilburn, Founder and Chairman of the Rocky Mountain Black Conservatives, and a speaker, author, columnist and analyst for multiple print and broadcast media outlets. Follow him on <a href=”https://www.facebook.com/RMBTP/”>Facebook</a> and at <a href=”http://rmblackconservatives.com/”>RMBlackConservatives.com</a>.]


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