Is an Activist’s Pricey House News? Facebook Alone Decides.

The Post’s editors wrote that Facebook and other social media companies “claim to be” neutral “and that they are not making editorial decisions to ward off cynical regulations or legal responsibilities that jeopardize their profits. But they act as publishers – only very bad ones. “

Updated

April 25, 2021, 5:35 p.m. ET

Of course you need one to know one. The Post, always a mix of strong local news, big gossip and conservative politics, is currently bidding for the title of the worst newspaper in America. It has published a number of scary stories about Covid vaccines, the culmination of which was a headline linking vaccines to herpes, part of a broader effort to expand its digital reach. Great stuff if your looking for traffic in anti-vax telegram groups. The piece about the Black Lives Matter activist that blocked Facebook was pretty weak too. Without evidence, she assumed that her fortune had gone bad and mostly just scoffed at how “the self-described Marxist bought a house for $ 1.4 million last month.”

But then you probably hated a story about someone you didn’t like buying an expensive house. For example, when Lachlan Murdoch, the co-chair of the Post’s parent company, bought the most expensive house in Los Angeles, it received wide and occasionally derisive coverage. Maybe Mr. Murdoch didn’t know he could have the stories deleted from Facebook.

Facebook does not maintain a central register of news articles being deleted for these reasons, although the service also blocked a Daily Mail article about the Black Lives Matter activist’s real estate. And it doesn’t keep track of how many news articles it blocked, though it regularly deletes offensive posts from individuals, including photos of the home of Fox News star Tucker Carlson, a Facebook employee said.

The conflict between Facebook and The Post really showed – and what surprised me – that the platform doesn’t postpone news organizations at all when it comes to judging news. A decision by the Post or the New York Times that someone’s personal assets are current will not affect the company’s opaque enforcement mechanisms. Nor did Facebook’s attorney say that there is a nebulous and reasonable human judgment that the country has found nervous over the past year, and that a black activist’s concern for her own safety was warranted. (The activist did not respond to my request, but mentioned in an Instagram post the coverage of her personal finances “doxxing” and a “tactic of terror”.)

The whole point of the Facebook bureaucracy is to replace human judgment with some kind of strict corporate law. “The policy in this case prioritizes security and privacy, and that enforcement shows how difficult these tradeoffs can be,” said Tucker Bounds, vice president of communications for the company. “To understand if our guidelines are in place, we refer the guidelines to the Oversight Board.”

The board is a promising type of supercourt that has not yet established a meaningful policy. So this rule could change at some point. (Let your stories be erased while you can!)

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