Online censorship is being questioned by parents in Missouri. Throughout the pandemic, popular platforms like Facebook and Twitter offered a place for people to socialize despite lockdowns. The platforms allowed support groups to continue to meet virtually.
Smaller, lesser-known platforms like nextdoor.com also host plenty of community conversations.
But for Missouri native Josh McCollum, nextdoor silenced his ideas by deleting personal posts. He said this confused him because it happened right after he joined.
He spoke with The Epoch Times about it, “I only got onto nextdoor to share a few things regarding our local school system which I was concerned about.”
McCollum’s concerns relate to mask mandates and other controversial school policies that allow the teaching of critical race theory (CRT). He created an online petition urging his child’s school district to allow masks to remain optional, but his online friends said they never saw it. He believes his posts that share the petition have been purposefully suppressed.
While many social media platforms utilize algorithms to discern which posts violate community standards, their systems may not understand context. Satire sites have openly noted that their posts are being flagged.
When McCollum tried to share the petition on nextdoor, the post was flagged with a notice that said that anything posted about COVID-19 should have a source link to the CDC, WHO, or local agencies.
Users were allowed to share the source material without editing it if they choose the publish option, but the notice shows that nextdoor is making it more difficult for people to openly discuss mask mandates.
Nextdoor’s support did not respond to a request for comment, but their website lists six community guideline rules relating to respect, discrimination, and harmful activity.
Whether McCollum’s posts were considered harmful or discriminatory was not addressed. The posts were simply deleted.
Dash Crowlee also opposes mandatory mask mandates and lives within the same school district. He fears that masking children for long periods of time will have negative social consequences and is vocal about it on Twitter, but he experienced a different form of censorship.
During the election he had numerous tweets deleted and his account suspended, but it was when he posted about masks that his account was nearly banned altogether. This past spring he grew so upset at the changing mask requirements that he decided to reach out to Dr. Anthony Fauci. Unable to find direct contact information, Crowlee took to Twitter and responded to Fauci’s tweets.
Within hours he received a warning that his account would be banned if he did not delete the tweets opposing Dr. Fauci’s methods. He said, “It’s like they want you to admit defeat. They could just delete the tweet automatically, but they cuckold you and make you do it.”
Twitter did not comment on this issue, but like nextdoor, they have a long list of rules involving safety, privacy, and authenticity which start out with this statement:
Censorship and Government Intervention
Debates over the efficacy of masks are still ongoing and new studies are challenging the validity of CDC guidelines. Parents and students have publicly spoken before teachers and administrations to voice their concerns over mask mandates.
As ad campaigns for mask mandates were put in place across the nation, individuals who questioned the necessity have been censored. Former White House coronavirus adviser under the Trump administration, Dr. Scott Atlas, had a tweet removed for posting that face coverings do not work.
During his July 7 news conference, former President Donald Trump accused the federal government of using Facebook, Twitter, and Google as its “de facto censorship arm” during the COVID-19 pandemic. One claim that was censored, he said, was the assertion that COVID-19 emerged from a Wuhan virology lab in 2019. Earlier this year, President Joe Biden said many members of the U.S. intelligence community now view the theory as viable.
Similar issues have been experienced by many across the nation since the installment of Facebook’s fact-checkers and collusion with the White House to flag “problematic posts.”
Sen. Bill Hagerty (R-Tenn.) introduced on July 28 the Disclose Government Censorship Act (pdf) which would require social media companies to “publicly disclose information relating to requests or recommendations made by government entities to moderate content.”
Government involvement in social media is still a new concept. Many elected officials have expressed their concerns about Big Tech censorship and what it means to the American people. Sen. Josh Hawley (R-Mo.) even wrote a book about it.
As more individuals and officials question the validity of online censorship, those in favor of it argue that social media companies are privately owned and have their own terms of service. If a user violates those terms they have a variety of other platforms to choose from.
Social media has become such an important tool that some argue that it should be regarded as a public utility.
What the courts will decide remains uncertain, but when censorship is used to silence parents who express concerns over decisions that affect their children’s health, the efforts from social media companies to restrict discussion on important topics take America into unprecedented territory.