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Facebook’s blatant censorship of political speech | READER COMMENTARY

People walk down St Paul Street toward McKeldin Plaza during a march and protest regarding the lack of charges brought against Louisville police in the killing of Breonna Taylor on Sept. 26, 2020. (Karl Merton Ferron/Baltimore Sun Staff)
People walk down St Paul Street toward McKeldin Plaza during a march and protest regarding the lack of charges brought against Louisville police in the killing of Breonna Taylor on Sept. 26, 2020. (Karl Merton Ferron/Baltimore Sun Staff) (Karl Merton Ferron/The Baltimore Sun)

Just days after the Baltimore Sun named organizer Sharon Black one of “Baltimore’s 25 Women to Watch,” Facebook has shut down the page for one of the main groups Ms. Black organizes for, the People’s Power Assembly (“Baltimoreans march in protest of Breonna Taylor killing: ‘It’s time for a change,'” Sept. 26). This censorship seems to be related to PPA’s plans for a car caravan and rally on Wednesday, Nov. 4, “If Trump Steals the Election.” There are also reports from the group that their phone line has been inundated with calls from the U.S. Department of Homeland Security and harassing messages from Donald Trump supporters.

This all strikes me as highly suspicious and downright un-American. Regardless of whether you agree or disagree with Ms. Black’s political positions, free speech and the right to dissent are founding principles of our nation. Of course, Facebook has been accused of political bias by those on the left and the right, especially so since the 2016 election. As outrageous, blatantly false and misleading statements by President Trump are merely flagged, this shutdown seems to go much further. Indeed, this seems like a blatant attempt to prevent local organizing and free expression of ideas.

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One could make the argument that as Facebook is a private company, it is not required to provide protection for popular or unpopular ideas. Precedent in the past has held that Americans do not enjoy the same unconstrained freedom of expression in, say, a privately owned and operated business that they do in a town square. However, Facebook has positioned itself as that very thing — an online community for the exchange of ideas. Facebook cannot have it both ways. In further contrast to how Facebook has handled misinformation from President Trump, anti-vaxxers, COVID-19 posts and any number of other dubious sources, this does not seem to be an issue of misrepresentation of information or a matter of fact vs. fiction. This seems to be a bald-faced act of censorship.

It will be interesting to see what further details emerge from this situation. The calls from Homeland Security would seem to indicate the involvement of the federal government, an agency not known for fact checking. If so, this is a truly chilling move: The federal government tapping a private company to muzzle to voices of community-based activists in the interest of suppressing dissent against an embattled president. Hopefully, brighter days are ahead for the First Amendment to our Constitution.

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Michael Johnson, Baltimore

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