Facebook Censorship: Is Big Brother Watching You?

Picture this: you’re browsing around your Facebook homepage, checking on your favorite friends and lovers, tagging yourself in photos from the weekend, when suddenly, you stumble upon a religious group.You write a comment on the group’s wall, quoting a bible passage or contributing your thoughts to the group's discussion. You hit enter. Boom—a beautiful moment of social conversation and self-publishing all at once. The comment looms on the screen for a few moments, but then, in the blink of an eye, it vanishes, as if sucked into the vortex of internet oblivion.Facebook censorship may be more common than you think—but is it 'necessarily' a bad thing?

Picture this: you’re browsing around your Facebook homepage, checking on your favorite friends and lovers, tagging yourself in photos from the weekend, when suddenly, you stumble upon a religious group.

You write a comment on the group’s wall, quoting a bible passage or contributing your thoughts to the group’s discussion. You hit enter. Boom—a beautiful moment of social conversation and self-publishing all at once.  The comment looms on the screen for a few moments, but then, in the blink of an eye, it vanishes, as if sucked into the vortex of internet oblivion.

It’s called Facebook censorship, and it’s more common than you might think.

With the rise of citizen journalism and the growing popularity of “Facebook journalism,” the social network is being hailed as the new “free and democratic press.” Because of social media networks like Facebook, the world is more transparent and we, as users, are free to author our own digital histories. However, the scope of that freedom is still being negotiated, and Facebook may not me the unmediated form of self-publishing and information sharing that we’d like to think.

Don’t get me wrong—I love Facebook— but a recent group formed on The Wall Street Journal’s homepage grabbed my attention: “Religious and political censorship by Facebook” is the group’s name. Their game? Tracking instances of censorship on the social network.

“The ongoing and growing political censorship by Facebook should be a great concern for all who participate in social networking,” reads the group’s discussion page introduction. “While I have mostly been the victim of religious censorship I have had political posts censored.”

The “I” speaking here is Steve Winter, who created the anti-censorship group on Facebook in September of 2010. So far, the group has eight members and 107 “likes.” In addition to spearheading the virtual group, Winter has also documented instances of Facebook censorship on the discussion page of The Wall Street Journal’s homepage.

Winter is the face of the war against online censorship. He has been collecting evidence of Facebook censorship for the past two years and uploading it onto the Wall Street Journal’s discussion page. Follow the link to view three web pages of 24 documented Facebook censorship cases, some dated as early as eight months ago.

On his Facebook group page “Beware of Facebook censorship,” Winter explains that Facebook censored out Bible passages that were posted as wall comments and claims that the social network censored the phrase “Winterband Christain rock,” the name of his Christian rock band.  In addition to censoring his religious posts, Winter claims that the social network also blotted out any links he posted on his wall about Facebook censorship, including a letter to the editor of the Wall Street Journal on the issue of censorship in online platforms.

With his long, white beard and leather jacket, Winter looks more like Santa Claus gone rock and roll than a political activist, but the eccentric sixty-two-year-old from North Carolina may be onto something. Though Winter could not be contacted for an interview, his allegations that Facebook is censoring religious and political material should warrant concern from any audience invested in freedom of speech on the social network.

Type “Facebook censorship” in the search bar of the social network. Go on, try it. You’ll get at least fifteen results—all groups that have come together to fight for freedom of speech on the very platform they’re accusing. The number of members in each group ranges from 35 people (“Facebook Blackout Internet Censorship”) to 292 members (“Fight Facebook Censorship”), but nevertheless demonstrates a growing awareness and concern for our online freedoms.

Francesco Gatti is a freedom activist and photojournalist currently based in China. He’s the leader of the “Against Facebook censorship” page, one of the most popular Facebook groups dedicated to freedom of speech. The Facebook page currently has 168 members and opens with a quote from John Stewart Mill’s On Liberty, a quote which sets the tone for the group’s aims. I caught up with Gatti to discuss why he started the page and why he feels Facebook should be an uncensored platform for conversation. “I am against censorship of any kind” says Gatti, whose currently in Shanghai fighting for free speech.