Meta’s Political Conundrum: Censorship or Content Moderation?



With 2024 being an election year for both the United Kingdom and the United States, political parties understand that half the proverbial battle is won or lost on social media. As the push toward getting voters to the polls inches closer, political parties take their debates from the podium to various social media platforms. The new generation of politically-savvy users are more likely to keep abreast with their political candidates via social media updates rather than turning on the TV and tuning in to the BBC. However, things took a turn in the Metaverse when users reported being logged out of their accounts only to be allowed back in with some not-so-discreet changes. Instagram and Threads soon came under fire for attempting to suppress political content just months before the next presidential election by limiting the “political content” that appears on a user’s feed.

Read More: What is “Threads” and Why is Twitter Threatened?

It took a while for users to begin noticing that the app rolled out a new default setting to filter out “political content” from account recommendations with some creators expressing their frustration after Instagram started limiting political content recommendations. Meta had previously (albeit quietly) claimed that it would not filter content from followed accounts but rather would limit its algorithm from “proactively” showcasing political content from unfollowed accounts. “The new setting — which users can opt out of — applies to the Feed, Reels, Explore, and Suggested Users parts of Instagram and Threads,” reports Time magazine.

The Devious Double Standard

Content moderation is something “X” owner Elon Musk himself flip-flops on. When first taking the helm at “X” (formerly Twitter), Musk vowed that the platform would be open to free speech both on the left and right of the political aisle. He soon, however, made a U-turned on his words by “silencing his critics” and suspending journalists according to Forbes. Senior reporter at The Drum, Kendra Barnett stated “Elon Musk is silencing his critics on X again, including The Intercept’s Ken Klippenstein & Texas Observer’s Steven Monacelli. It’s another ironic move from the billionaire, who has described himself as a “free speech absolutist”.

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The move by Musk has not only emboldened extremists on his platform but Musk plays an equal part in fueling conspiracies by “engaging with their accounts, and seems to have protected them from scrutiny,” reports Wired. By blocking the accounts of users who so much as question his new policies or his stand with Israel, the billionaire mogul showcases a clear double standard whereby the rules of free speech apply only when it suits Musk, turning “X” into an “online troll’s playground”.

Read More: Twitter’s Rebranding Cements Elon Musk’s Legacy As One Of The Most Influential Tech Magnates Of All Time 

While there is an ongoing clampdown on speech moderation, very little is done to moderate disinformation. Wired reports that there has been a “deluge of disinformation that has flooded social media, and in particular X, during the ongoing Israel-Hamas war.” The discourse appears to be going from online to offline with Meta reports of employees calling out “toxic” rules that ban staff from discussing controversial topics like Israel–Palestine after an alleged investigation where one employee was “kicked out of internal systems”.

The Court of Public Opinion

Perhaps now more than ever, people are opening their eyes to the ongoing plight of the Palestinian people over years of a brutal apartheid regime at the hands of Israel. For years, Israel held a monopoly over the narrative with rarely a voice being given to the Palestinian people that was as widely acknowledged as it is now after the conflict of 7 October 2023, the aftermath of which has led to the deaths and displacement of thousands of Palestinians in Gaza.

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It is hard to ignore the ongoing genocide of innocent civilians with much of the discourse happening online as that is the only way people are able to look into what is happening on the front lines in real-time. It therefore comes as no surprise that Israel is beginning to lose face in the court of public appeal as users can no longer turn away from an active effort to seize control over Gaza. As a result, Israel is making more attempts to suppress anyone who speaks out against their narrative that conveniently comes at a time when the usage and legality of TikTok is actively being questioned, a platform that sees a high rate of pro-Palestinian traction.

Social media users across Facebook, Instagram, X, YouTube and TikTok are accusing the platforms of censoring accounts or actively reducing the reach of pro-Palestine content — a practice known as shadowbanning — according to Al Jazeera. Posts containing hashtags like “#FreePalestine”, “#IStandWithPalestine” or the word “genocide” are being hidden by the platforms while some users have also accused Instagram, of taking down content that mentions Palestine for violating “community guidelines”.

The Insatiable Algorithm Animal

There is no hiding that money plays a heavy hand into what we see on our timelines. Sponsored or boosted posts gain more traction than organic posts. A social media algorithm can be bought. Instagram also makes more money the higher their viewership and the longer they are able to get eyeballs on the screen. Complaints that “suggested reels” are sometimes overtly sexualised algorithms set to make the user lost in a sea of doomscrolling.

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There are two sides to the coin. If users are going on social media either as a form of escapism or to educate themselves and keep up to date with global issues then why are users feeling more frustrated after going on the apps? Why are we as users being fed content we neither wanted nor were looking for, and who is benefiting from us seeing this curated “infotainment”? Unfortunately, there is no glitch in the matrix but rather a system set up to keep us on the virtual hamster wheel.

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