This week it has been confirmed that governments have the possibility of exercising censorship in the largest of social networks without resorting to Justice.
The government of New Zealand is the first to acknowledge that it uses this mechanism
This Thursday, December 1, the government of New Zealand responded to a request for information from Mark Wong asking him the following: "Has the government, any division of the government, any member of the government, or any organisation acting on behalf of the government, ever had partner access to Facebook’s takedown portal?"
In its response, the government of Jacinda Ardern (a member of the New Zealand Labor Party, which is part of the Progressive Alliance, which brings together left-wing and socialist parties from various countries) has stated the following: "Yes, the Department of Internal Affairs has access to Facebook's takedown portal. Please note, we cannot advise if any other government agency has access to the takedown portal." The official letter with the New Zealand government's response can be read here (see PDF).
The government of New Zealand is the first to officially acknowledge having access to this censorship portal. Access to that portal can be seen here (there is a copy in archive.ph, in case they suddenly change it). On the portal it bears this title: "Request Secure Access to the Facebook Content Requests System". Below, text reads as follows: "This portal is for onboarded partner requests pertaining to content issues on Facebook and Instagram. If you are an onboarded partner, please put in your request through this portal."
A censorship portal whose existence was revealed by a US media outlet in October
The existence of this portal was revealed by the US newspaper The Intercept on October 31, in a news item in which it noted that the US Department of Homeland Security (DHS) "is quietly broadening its efforts to curb speech it considers dangerous." The story added: "Years of internal DHS memos, emails, and documents — obtained via leaks and an ongoing lawsuit, as well as public documents — illustrate an expansive effort by the agency to influence tech platforms."
The tempting possibility of imposing extrajudicial censorship for political purposes
The excuse of fighting "disinformation" offers governments tempting possibilities to limit freedom of expression without going through the courts: "How disinformation is defined by the government has not been clearly articulated, and the inherently subjective nature of what constitutes disinformation provides a broad opening for DHS officials to make politically motivated determinations about what constitutes dangerous speech", The Intercept noted in the aforementioned News.
This media reminds that "the laudable goal of protecting Americans from danger has often been used to conceal political maneuvering. In 2004, for instance, DHS officials faced pressure from the George W. Bush administration to heighten the national threat level for terrorism, in a bid to influence voters prior to the election, according to former DHS Secretary Tom Ridge. U.S. officials have routinely lied about an array of issues, from the causes of its wars in Vietnam and Iraq to their more recent obfuscation around the role of the National Institutes of Health in funding the Wuhan Institute of Virology’s coronavirus research."
The Facebook document explaining to governments how to use that tool
The Intercept also released a confidential document (see PDF) in the one in which Facebook explains to governments how to use that censorship portal. The scandal over the use of these out-of-court mechanisms to limit freedom of expression and freedom of information was so widespread that the White House was forced a month ago to deny that it is using that censorship portal, something that is hardly believable.
As recalled by the New York Post, former White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki, acknowledged in July that the Biden administration has flagged posts on Facebook as "disinformation", for which the White House would be in contact with big technology companies. The opacity of this censorship and the fact that it does not go through the courts -as is mandatory in a democracy in any procedure that affects this fundamental right- encourages us to distrust that this tool is not is also being used for political purposes. Consider, for example, what happened two years ago when Twitter and Facebook censored a New York Post story that seriously affected Joe Biden in the middle of the campaign for the US presidential election.
The silence of the Spanish media on this scandal
The most astonishing thing about this scandal is the media silence on these events in Spain. The information released on October 31 by The Intercept and the letter published yesterday by the New Zealand government have not been reflected in any news by the main media. It is worth wondering if the owners of these media outlets and the journalists who work in them have ceased to see freedom of expression and freedom of information as important, as well as the judicial protection of those rights against any attempt of censorship by the political power.
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