Are you on Facebook? It’s a question I get asked all the time.
I am, but I’m wary of it. We think what we are seeing is only influenced by who we are friends with and maybe the pages that we like. Not many know that in fact Facebook editors (often in the form of automatic algorithms) are curating what appears on our timelines.
We want to use the Internet to portray our lives, but we are simultaneously forced into seeing someone else’s ideal. On my Facebook feed I usually see posts influenced by my search history. So as you can probably imagine it’s full of New Look and Sephora pictures.
In almost everything we do, we face restrictions and social media is no exception. The continual censorship of posts pushes against freedom of expression while we immediately sacrifice control over freedom of choice in what we see.
This is an imposition, as we would be exposed to a much wider picture if social media did not dictate what we should and shouldn’t see.
Have you ever been in a situation when you wanted to post something but couldn’t? Or it got later taken down for violating so-called ‘terms and conditions’/’community guidelines’ or whatever the term du jour might be?
How easily can this be squared with freedom of speech?
If you are a member of the LGBTQ community this might not be news to you.
Back in 2011, Facebook removed a photo of two men kissing. The photo was taken down for containing ‘nudity, or any kind of graphic or sexually suggestive content’.
What does this say about freedom of speech online? It’s plain to see there is not much room for it out there. Posts are initially reviewed by algorithms and are therefore lacking the human touch that would understand the nuances and motives of the post.
In the case above while their algorithm took down the photo, Facebook was actively promoting gay pride. Hypocritical, right?
In 2015, Instagram banned one photographer’s breastfeeding pictures during… World Breastfeeding Week. It stated that her account had been deleted for not following the terms of Instagram.
Personally, I am not a fan of explicit content on social media, but in my opinion there is nothing wrong with having an Instagram page dedicated to intimate photos of pregnancy, childbirth, and breastfeeding especially in a week celebrating that very thing.
While I wouldn’t choose to follow it, it definitely has a right to exist. Primarily for the positive role it can play encouraging women to feel confident in their bodies.
Another case: Rupi Kaur is a visual artist I quite like. Her work is highly distinctive and challenges social stigmas around many issues.
Rupi once posted a picture on Instagram showing a patch of menstrual blood. Provocative – yes, but nothing particularly out of the ordinary or inappropriate. It’s a routine event that many of us women go through every month.
Did it get blocked? Absolutely. The reason for it – violation of the community guidelines.
So what are us girls supposed to post to get approval from Instagram bosses? An endless stream of sexy selfies and pictures in bikinis – emulating the thought leaders of the day by which I mean reality TV stars?
And trust me, the things they get up to on the Internet are a lot more inappropriate than Rupi, sharing none of her aims of empowerment and demystification of mundane realities for women.
We are continuously told about freedom of speech, freedom of expression and freedom of choice, yet social media channels continue to censor what we want to post while forcing their version of events on us.
So don’t be surprised next time you get blocked for posting ‘inappropriate’ content. It’s as predictable as the social media companies forcing you to see what they want you to.