The internet giant Facebook suspended this week, although it later rectified, the Instagram account of Shana Chappel, mother of one of the soldiers killed in Afghanistan, because she took advantage of that social network to spread a harsh letter against Joe Biden, blaming him for the death of his son, and accusing him of reaching the presidency of the United States “by cheating.” It is not the first time that a multinational technology company suspends someone’s account because it considers that they have exceeded the limits of correction, nor is Facebook the only platform that practices censorship based on political criteria. Although Facebook backed down after a few hours claiming that it was a mistake and apologized to Chappel, the truth is that this attitude reopens the complex debate on the limits of internet censorship. The closure of accounts is justified when users commit violence, or when its contents are threatening or criminal, but the expression of political criteria should never be a reason for this, no matter how harsh the messages from users entail. That is what freedom consists of, which in turn opens a second debate: that of the breakdown of net neutrality and the growing configuration of some platforms as alternative ‘media’ with their own editorial criteria, for which they point to some users to the detriment of others due to ideological criteria.
Facebook was born as a communication platform between people, but over the years it has become a powerful weapon of political influence. Today, in electoral campaigns in many countries, it is customary for experts to use the profiles of Facebook users to condition the electorate with persuasive messages. And it is legitimate. But the parties have also discovered the usefulness of this platform to spread propaganda or intoxicate public opinion. Facebook is a platform for the circulation of content, but by screening them selectively based on its strict interests -including political ones-, it also begins to assume its own editorial functions, which is worrying. In addition, it makes tens of billions of millions for its advertising, and from this perspective it competes with the televisions and newspapers which it has engulfed a good part of its business.
The paradox is that despite its enormous influence, Facebook is still a private company whose activity is not regulated, among other reasons because it lacks borders, and no State seems to have enough courage to confront the excessive and interventionist behaviors of these platforms. Pretending to supplant the traditional media poses a danger to ideological plurality because the trend towards a monopoly of single thought is already an incessant drop by drop. This lack of controls means that Facebook can decide who has the right to operate on this platform, or what messages may or may not circulate among its one billion users. This is a privilege compared to traditional media, which are subject to national regulations and numerous social controls, which is not the case with these networks. Nor are the ‘independent’ committees created to monitor content and monitor censorship abuses, because their members ultimately respond to the interests of companies and are not transparent. In this state of affairs, it is difficult to propose solutions because reaching international agreements with binding force does not seem possible today. And it is freedom that suffers.