Freedom over Facebook: How the social media giant could wield the most powerful censorship tool in history

Part 1

This is a two-part series on the censorship claims of Facebook’s Libra. Part One will discuss the importance of ‘freedom’ in a information and social media-centered world, and how Facebook is using Libra to act as the gatekeeper of the world.

Freedom. Facebook. Fact. Fiction.

FREEDOM

These are interesting times, aren’t they? We live in an era where everything around us is taken for granted. From the food we eat to the clothes we wear and even the way we interact, everything seems to come so easy for us. What if all of this were to disappear, or change? Would we be able to survive?

My guess is we could. We are perpetual beings, slave to the times; and if the times change, we will as well. We will adopt other necessities, adapt to the change in environment, and even acquire different skills. That’s what makes us human.

But, what if nothing changes and everything remains as it were, but one being emerges. A controller. A gatekeeper. A policing force that while keeping everything as it is, maintains the supply of this resource pool. What if one had to seek permission from this gatekeeper, only to acquire the necessities of life.

Welcome to 2019.

In the current day-and-age, the power to destroy any entity stems from the power of control. With that, comes the conundrum of the ‘ability to restrict.’ Countries are embargoed, companies are regulated and banned and citizens are censored. In that matrix, we all find a place, either through victimhood or interaction.

The micro-pillar of this ‘ability to restrict’ draws from the ability of companies to censor an individual, and restrict any output of their being. To reiterate, this ‘ability to restrict,’ at first, seems minuscule, a single attack on a single person that does not seem like much. However, when the dynamics of the current world order and the size and scale of the company in question are assessed, it becomes a question of ‘Freedom’ itself.

Companies, unlike the days of the past, operate on a pull effect, rather than a push effect. They draw customers because of the inherent benefits of their platform and in that sense, the power lies with these large corporations and their ability to control. Individual customers are working on the whims of corporations, adhering to the platform’s policies, whatever they may be, in order to stay on and live in fear of an exodus.

This power-dynamic is further amplified when the platform in question is one which is essential. Something we cannot live without, and at the same time, is something we live on.

The premise thus, remains quite clear. The current technological age coupled with the fact that we have become information-hungry beings has set the stage for a form of never-before-seen censorship, and the companies that enjoy this ‘ability to restrict’ are the social media giants.

Interaction was the basis for social media. That is what drew us to these platforms, that is what got us hooked, and that is what is preventing us from leaving. But, given how fast things have developed, interaction isn’t the only carrot these social media companies have dangled in front of our greedy eyes.

Soon, it came to have the ability to contort content into what we favored. Then, it became the ability to filter the content we received, making us the target of conspirators. It even came down to selling our content to nefarious actors to use, at their will. Soon, all forms of ‘interaction’ will be controlled.

And now, we are on the verge of escalating this ‘power of control.’ Social media giants could change the way we not only interact, but also transact. One social media giant in particular.

FACEBOOK

Facebook, the biggest social media company in the world, also controls the most popular messaging platform on the globe, WhatsApp. Libra, if launched, could forever change the way we transact and this allows Facebook to weaponize the aforementioned ‘ability to restrict.’

Libra, unlike projects of the past, was not created to fit a niche set of customers like institutions, retail clients or as an internal payments tool. It is well-and-truly meant to be ‘global’ and hence, it once bore the name ‘GlobalCoin.’ Despite the cringing nature of the discarded name, it does adhere to the sole objective that Libra wants to achieve.

Be the one true global method of payment.

With the creation of Libra, the elements of a curated effort to possibly censor voices is brought to the fore. Facebook as a ‘gatekeeper,’ Libra as a ‘global method of payment,’ conjoined with the ‘ability to restrict’ unsuspecting individuals. That equates to almost supernatural levels of power.

Facebook’s power to censor voices that it deems to not conform with its private policies was called into question during the US House Financial Services Committee hearing.

Representative [R] Sean Duffy from the state of Wisconsin brought to light the ‘ability to restrict’ users from accessing their hard-earned funds that Facebook could summon, if Libra were to be given the green light. While there are several concerns that plague the image of Libra, the case of censorship is pertinent.

Holding up a $20 bill, Congressman Duffy told the Committee that the fiat currency in his hand “does not discriminate” based on the nature of the user or the nature of the transaction. Anyone, irrespective of their social perception, can successfully use a $20 bill due to not just the anonymity and liquidity of the fiat, but the lack of a ‘gatekeeper.’

While yes, its value is subjected to the will of the US Federal Reserve, its acceptance, at least not immediately, is not. Hence, the ‘non-discriminatory’ argument tabled by the Congressman.

In response, Calibra’s David Marcus said,

“We must be thoughtful about those issues [censorship], congressman…On one side I just want to stress that a platform that enables you to communicate and share ideas, while Facebook, we believe is a platform that accepts ideas across the political spectrum, it has to protect [users] from hate speech.”

Hate speech is not officially codified in the US Constitution, nor is it even mentioned when ‘freedom of speech’ is discussed. However, the fairly new term has found itself in the official policy documents of many a corporation, causing social outrage and by extension, censorship based on biased ‘social perception.’

Facebook, along with Twitter and YouTube, have been de-monetizing, de-verifying, and even de-platforming several voices from both sides of the political spectrum. However, the balance is visibly off. Several ‘far-right’ voices including Milo Yiannopoulous, Laura Loomer, Alex Jones, and many others have been booted out by the platform citing private regulations, while some on the ‘far-left’ like Louis Farrakhan have also been shown the exit door.

Representative Duffy highlighted this bias to David Marcus, although he didn’t stress on which side the bias leaned on.

When put on the spot by the Congressman and asked if these polarizing figures can use Libra, Marcus had this to say,

“I don’t know yet, congressman.”

Marcus through his reply stated that a private company like Facebook could take away the ability of a person to ‘transact,’ based on a social perception that they find flawed. Think about that; not just the ability to interact and share personal messages, but the ability to do as you will with the money you earned could also be restricted and gated away, with Facebook acting as the ‘gatekeeper.’

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