In 1972, the late George Carlin debuted his famous routine called “ “The Seven Words You Can Never Say on Television.” The words were: shit, piss, fuck, cunt, cocksucker, motherfucker, and tits, all of which you can hear on television today. (Who says life doesn’t keep getting better? ) But George would be fine: I have it on good authority that in Stand-Up Heaven, where Henny Youngman has St. Peter’s job, George is knocking celestial audiences dead (metaphorically, of course,) with his new monologue, “1,825 Words You Can Never Say On Facebook.”
It’s hilarious, if a little long.
The Foundation For Individual Rights In Education has released a report based on its investigation of how public universities—that’s the government, remember—engage in surreptitious censorship of student expression. Censorship of student expression is illegal, but The FIRE exists because so many universities find that concept too complex to grasp.
Implicated in the results: Facebook, which provides the tools for censorship, including its automated content filters. These allow state institutions to automatically “hide” users’ comments if they contain words included on Facebook’s undisclosed list of offensive words, or a government entity’s customized list of prohibited words. The filters allow public universities to quietly remove critical Facebook posts, restricting open campus and public discourse.
The FIRE surveyed over 200 public universities and colleges across 47 states and the District of Columbia. It found that fully half of the surveyed institutions use Facebook’s “strong” profanity filter, while nearly a third use the “medium” filter. That means about 77% of surveyed institutions use an undiclosed blacklist of prohibited words. Nearly a third of the universities surveyed (59, or 30.3%) created a custom blacklist, collectively censoring 1,825 words and phrases in order to, among other unconstitutional objectives, “block animal rights activists’ criticism of food vendors,” suppress “debate over the fate of a campus Confederate monument,” and stifle debate over controversial faculty, politicians, and sports teams.
Public universities can and do manipulate Facebook comments to distort the public discourse. Wright State University, FIRE tells us, deleted comments supporting a faculty strike from its Facebook page, confining debate over the action to a rigged community forum that appeared supportive of the university’s administration while being critical of striking faculty.
Yup, that’s how fascism works!
Facebook doesn’t alert a user when their post has been removed, or tell the public that comments have been censored, so this system is perfect for mind and opinion molding. FIRE says,
These automated methods of censorship are not only contrary to a commitment to freedom of expression, but also provide government actors with tools that—in light of recent federal court rulings concerning President Trump’s Twitter feed—violate the government actors’ legal obligations under the First Amendment.