The Smiling Face of Censorship: Welcome to Zuckerberg’s Vision of Internet “Kindness”

Meta CEO Zuckerberg is continuing to market his new text-based app Threads with the pitch that he is “definitely focusing on kindness and making this a friendly place.”  This has been picked up by an eager media as a “Twitter killer” where “Friendly Threads Collides with an Unfriendly Internet.” However, what is not discussed is what makes Threads “friendly.” Zuckerberg appears to be promising the friendly confines of a censored site. Likewise, Instagram head Adam Mosseri says that politics and hard news are not worth the “incremental engagement or revenue.” It is all part of Threads’s promise for a “sane” and “kind” alternative to Twitter where greater free speech is now allowed to run rampant. It is precisely what Facebook tried to sell years ago in a pro-censorship commercial campaign.

Below is my column in the Hill on achieving “kindness” through corporate censorship:

“Sanity” has returned to the internet.

That is the message of not only Meta’s Mark Zuckerberg, but also a host of gleeful pundits heralding the arrival of  the “Twitter killing” text-based app Threads — the Twitter knock-off meant to destroy Elon Musk’s platform.

This is not just a cage fight between the two billionaires. Many are more interested in whether Zuckerberg can choke out free speech than in whether he can beat Musk.

Many critics opposed Musk’s dismantling of Twitter’s massive censorship system. Zuckerberg now promises a “sane” alternative that will place consumers under the watchful eye of Meta censors.

On the first day of the rollout, millions signed up, thanks in large part to Zuckerberg linking the new platform to Instagram. The censors also got to work right away. When people tried to follow Donald Trump Jr., they were met with a warning label: “Are you sure you want to follow donaldjtrumpjr? This account has repeatedly posted false information that was reviewed by independent fact-checkers or went against our Community Guidelines.”

Later, the company backed down after an outcry. But it was a telling moment. Andy Stone, who heads communications for Meta, wrote: “This was an error and shouldn’t have happened. It’s been fixed.”

But this was clearly a pre-established warning system, to be used to flag accounts disfavored by the company. It was “an error” that would likely not have been “fixed,” if not for the objections voiced on the first day of the rollout.

The controversy itself was a warning that the company has activated its signature censorship system to influence or regulate viewpoints.

Facebook has long been accused of targeting conservatives and dissenting viewpoints. Indeed, Zuckerberg’s pitch for “sane” management seemed like an appeal to those on the left who objected to the more tolerant free speech policies on Twitter after Musk’s purchase.

While there have been controversies at Musk’s Twitter over critics being banned or posts being removed, it is a fraction of the level of censorship that has long characterized Facebook and other competitors. Indeed, most of Musk’s critics attack him for reducing the “content moderation” on Twitter.

Threads’s rollout coincides with a court ruling that the government’s interventions to censor people on social media represented “the most massive attack against free speech in United States history.” Now, Facebook is offering an alternative to Twitter, with the assurance that users will be protected against any thoughts that Meta’s staff finds problematic. While free speech on Twitter is portrayed as harmful, the company has promised to “prioritize kindness.

That sounds eerily familiar to some of us as a way to deprioritize free speech. Recently, former Twitter executive Anika Collier Navaroli testified on how she and her staff would remove anything they considered “dog whistles” and “coded” messaging. Rather than using “kindness,” Twitter used undefined standards of “safety” to cancel free speech. Navaroli declared that they were unwilling to allow the safety of others “to go to the winds so that people can speak freely.”

Facebook has long tried to get the public to embrace its role as some kind of speech overlord. Years ago, Facebook rolled out an Orwellian commercial campaign to get the public to embrace censorship. The commercials showed young people heralding how they grew up on the internet and how the world was changing, creating a need for censorship under the guise of “content moderation.” Facebook, they promised, was offering the “blending of the real world and the internet world.”

Facebook is not alone in trying to get people to accept censorship. Recently, after the court ruling, various figures assured the public that they are better off letting corporate and government censors protect them from harmful thoughts. On CNN, Chief White House Correspondent Phil Mattingly went so far as to state that it simply “makes sense” for tech companies to go along with government censorship demands.

After this week’s decision, the New York Times immediately issued a panicky tweet that the resulting outbreak of free speech could “curtail efforts to combat disinformation.”

For his part, Zuckerberg prefers to just offer “kindness” and “sanity” with few details. Of course, there is a very simple way for Zuckerberg to show that he is committed to free speech: He can release the Facebook Files.

One of the reasons many of us in the free-speech community still support Musk is that he transformed the debate over government censorship by releasing the Twitter Files. For years, politicians and pundits dismissed objections from some of us to government-corporate coordination of censorship as unproven. In Congress, Democratic members attacked witnesses for supposedly lacking proof of censorship, even as they fought to block any investigation that might uncover that evidence.

Musk changed all that by showing the public an extensive network of government interventions to support censorship and blacklisting of private citizens. Much of what we know today is derived from the Twitter Files, but surely there is more to learn.

When I testified in Congress on the censorship operations, I noted that, as massive as this effort has been, Twitter is only the 14th largest social media company, according to some estimates. That means that this is only a fraction of the evidence that might be out there.

Facebook is the largest platform in the world, but so far it has steadfastly refused to offer the transparency of Twitter. If Zuckerberg is truly proud of his “sane” approach to social media, he should not fear the release of information on the past coordination with federal and congressional offices.

We assume that Facebook had the same backchannels that were established at Twitter, but the company has left the public entirely in the blind. That approach has made Meta one of the least transparent companies in the world on the scope and standards of censorship.

House committees will hopefully force Facebook to disclose some of these details. However, as Zuckerberg sells a promise of the “saneness’ and “kindness” of his platforms, he should be willing to show precisely what that means for consumers — and at what cost. After all, he has appealed to many of those consumers with the promise of a censored platform.

If Zuckerberg is so proud of his “content moderation,” he should take a victory lap and release the Facebook Files.

Jonathan Turley is the J.B. & Maurice C. Shapiro Professor of Public Interest Law George Washington University Law School.

172 thoughts on “The Smiling Face of Censorship: Welcome to Zuckerberg’s Vision of Internet “Kindness””

  1. Censorship on the internet to date is wishy-washy. If you speak (written or voice) without knowing the rules of the venue you are shooting at a blank target. Suppose that an internet site allowed only posts that conform to Zipf’s Law, where short words are predominate, and limits how many long words are allowed, but does not make known what a short or long word constitute? Now looking at let’s say Aristotle’s “Nicomachean Ethics” moral virtues, under what terms does the arbitrator delete, is bigamy a triviality that passes muster? The main question I have is the internet (social media) a town square or a kingdom hall? Without knowing what defines the internet, and its rules of speech, it’s left to the whims of the unknown what is and isn’t acceptable, regardless of any Constitutional rights.

    One last question can you post protest signs in front of internet locations where customers see them before entering, yea I know this is a silly question, but that’s what’s happening on a lot of social media platforms?

  2. Dear Prof Turley,

    Everybody wants to rule the world. Especially if they have more money than God.

    That’s nice of Zuck, but in my experience FB/META-Threads is a bit like checking into Hotel California – you can check out anytime you like, but you can never leave.

    *otoh, Biden is not so nice .. . on the campaign trail, I once saw him challenge a man to a duel for just asking a question.

  3. Most rational Americans would consider it creepy (or even totalitarian) to censor something anyone can see in a “public” park or on a “public” beach. Children can even view things on “public” property.

    Guess who actually censored and punished a Facebook member for posting a “public” photograph from a “public” park? Facebook did exactly this.

    Years ago the national ACLU, on Facebook, posted a fine art nude statue in a “public” park. Facebook suspended the entire ACLU homepage for posting a “public” image. Not pornography but a fine art style statue.

    Not saying the Facebook prudes are bad people or have bad intentions, but why would anyone trust a censor using unknown algorithms

  4. Chomsky knows a thing or two about censorship. He has written a very sophisticated theory about it. Censorship arises through a multitude of psychological, economic and sociological mechanisms. Being able to see the complexity in the rise of censorship is important. This is how you avoid the paranoid belief that all censorship comes about through a single centrally-controlled grand conspiracy. And it’s also how you avoid the reverse: the radical denial of centrally-controlled censorship. Psychologically, the two are connected. As long as there are people who don’t see conspiracy anywhere, there will be people who see conspiracy everywhere…The newly emerging totalitarianism is not so much fascist or communist in nature. It is technocratic. What is emerging is a totalitarianism led by “experts” and enforced with technological tools, the likes of which the world has never seen—until now.

  5. NATO is afraid that it will need to do what it was organized to do. NATO will eventually have to do it, and many will ask “Why wasn’t it done 500 days ago, when so much future death and destruction could be have been prevented?”

    1. Critically important NATO summit in Vilnius this week.

      U.S./NATO could end this war in 6 hours .. . the same amount of time VP Joe Biden gave Ukraine to fire its Chief Prosecutor (who was investigation Burisma).


    2. As Trump pointed out, many NATO members were NOT spending the money to keep to their NATO commitments. That is when he threaten to pull out of NATO.
      A few countries complied.
      The rest, they do not have the material, the troops, the ammunition and seemingly not the backbone either to do anything.

      DoD contractor Raytheon is pulling old employees out of retirement to help train new employees for building Stinger MANPADS. The Biden admin sent all of them to the Ukraine. The US is out.

      With exception of the USMC, all other branches of the military have fallen short of recruitment quotas. Even when lowering physical fitness or testing standards.
      What needs to happen is people like you, your children or your grandchildren, to get down to the recruitment center and enlist in the Army in a combat MOS and volunteer to be first on the battlefield.

  6. Zucks new platform is just a sop for the inflamed prog/left who need their world edited from any thoughts or ideas that may make them feel sad or irate. Nothing new to see here other than the sheepdog (zuck) herding all his sheeple into a nice safe new pen.

  7. My wife used to post funny pictures on Facebook. They were “people are so dumb” photos. Some of those photos made fun of Biden, but they were harmless prods. The kind of “sedition” grandmas consider cute. She was hit with “editorial warnings” a couple of times that suggested her followers go to another site for more information. After a couple of these that she ignored, she was “hit” by a foreign account, and she was unable to recover her account. Call me a cynic if you want, but the chain of events was so coincidental that it raised my eyebrow. Then, she tried to work with Facebook to get her account back. They “tried”, but they were unable to recover the account for her, and she was unable to create a new account, until she cleared her cookies and cache and used a different email address and a variant on her name. That was closed down too. The coincidences were so coincidental that my wife conceded to my cynical conspiracy in this one instance. If Zuck opened up the Facebook Files, I wonder if we would see a number of people who experienced these roundabout “difficulties” using Facebook.

      1. Anonymous,

        How dare you insult Rocket man,

        Glorious Supreme Dear Divine Leader Kim Jong Un

  8. Facebook and others seem to have a lot of errors these days.

    Oh Mae Culpa. We’re sorry about that … long after we’re caught… we’ll try better next time.
    (Well after the damage was done.)

    Its sort of like the fact checkers who only want MSNBC or NPR strike people down… because their sources don’t acknowledge something to be true.
    Only till later they find out the truth from other sources…

    Like Hunter’s laptop.


  9. Why would it be okay to defend Ukraine in any future conflict, but not during a current conflict? If Ukraine is worth defending at all, then it should be worth defending at any time, present and future.

  10. Thanks for validating my point about Woke Hate. Woke pathology is akin to a mental illness. The fact that someone is Woke prevents him from even recognizing that he is afflicted.

  11. It’s a chicken-and-the-egg thing. Ukraine joining NATO can end the war, but Ukraine can’t join NATO until the war ends, and when the war ends, Ukraine won’t need NATO anymore. Who were the brain trusts at NATO to create this absurd, almost villainous, situation and go along with it as if there is nothing they can do about it, wringing their hands over it? They need to break out of this egg. Why not consider Russian violence in Ukraine as terrorism instead of a war? After all, the Russians themselves don’t consider it a war, either, but a special military operation. Here’s a radical idea: why not let Ukraine join NATO while the war (or terrorism) is going on and see what happens? Are such radical ideas allowed? It just might work. Sometimes rules have be bent to get the desired outcome sooner rather than later. It won’t escalate the situation. It will put an end to it. Putin is a hostage taker with one cartridge left in the magazine, while NATO is a well-armed SWAT team. NATO will prevail.

    1. “NATO will prevail”
      Interesting choice of words.
      Sounds rather like something Adam Sutler would say.
      Intentional, accidental, Freudian?

    2. Well armed SWAT team?
      On July 5th, Admiral Sir Tony Radakin, UK Chief of the Defence Staff reported,
      “A Defence Committee meeting in the House of Commons yesterday afternoon heard the UK has just 40 tanks and roughly a dozen frigates and destroyers ready for war,”

      “We were at 19 frigates and destroyers, which we subsequently reduced that to 17 because some of those ships were very expensive.

      ‘You’ve then got some in maintenance and refit so it is probably 11 or 12 which are available to go out on operations.’

      Germany is not much better. Some reports have them worse.

      And the Biden admin has given the green light for cluster munitions. The very same Biden admin that in the past called the use of cluster munitions a “war crime.”

      What really needs to happen is for you to get down to the recruiting center, enlist in a combat MOS and volunteer for a unit that will be on the front lines as soon as WWIII kicks off.
      If not you, your kids or grandkids should do it.
      If you want WWIII so badly, get to the recruitment center.

    1. Why did you not say the smiling face of USA Today? The Hill? The NY Post? The Messenger?

        1. What about Turley’s ideas do you take objection to? He never calls for censorship. He doesn’t even think the government should interfere with Meta’s censorship. At most he thinks the government should not be allowed to aid or coerce other people’s censorship. That is hardly controversial, as it is an American principle that goes back to our founding and the ratification of the Bill of Rights. So when you say “Turley’s smiling face” what exactly are you referring to?

          1. Starting with the last first, I’m referring to Turley’s literal smile when appearing on Fox News. He comes across as different than the screamers while he still says that convicting Trump is akin to a death sentence. Turley’s is the smiling face that gives them the slightest credibility while they still promote lies.
            I don’t have a problem with Turley’s ideas. I do have a problem with his constant misrepresentation of facts. He’ll report a story, lie about what the facts are or leave out signifigant portions and then condemn someone based upon his representation. An example would be to say the government “demanded” social media companies not report misrepresentation and then call them out for censorship. Sometimes he does an excellent job of legal anaylsis but other times he’s either trying to minimize the misdeeds of the right or maximize those on the left. Another example is the constant drumbeat of censorship of right-wing speakers as if it’s totally one-sided. He has nothing to say about censorship when it’s DeSantis who is tearing apart Florida public education at every level.

            1. I believe you’re using a vocabulary of the Left that I’m not totally familiar with. What do you mean by “screamers”? I literally have no idea what that even refers to. What does “convicting Trump is akin to a death sentence” mean? That Trump will receive the death sentence? When I see the news the only people screaming are the radical woke left, screaming things like “trans rights are human rights” over and over like big babies.

              Then when you discuss protecting very young children from pornography and drag shows in elementary schools — just as children are, and should be, protected when walking into a convenience store — you refer to that as “censorship” and “tearing apart Florida education” – when in reality none of that material is banned in adult society (as it would have to be to constitute actual censorship) and children are protected from harm. You should try to get away from the far-leftist “drumbeat” (as you so eloquently put it) and talk in normal-person terms . . . that is, only if you want to be understood and respected.

              1. I mean people that literally scream like Mark Levin as an example. As far as Turley (and Levin) saying Trump will receive a death sentence if convicted, that means because of Trump’s ge, any conviction will carry a minimum sentence where he will most likely die in prison and presumably he shouldn’t be convicted though all other old prisoners aren’t a problem.
                When I use “screamers” and “death sentence” it isn’t any form of left-speak. Assume any word I use carries the commonly used meaning and you’ll be good.
                You’ll have to forgive me if I ask for an example of drag shows in elementary schools? And now censorship isn’t a thing if you can find the material somewhere else? I live in Florida and see what’s happening. Don’t think I missed your reference to pornohgraphy in elementary schools, I think you’re definition might vary from what is commonly understood, examples please.

                1. And now censorship isn’t a thing if you can find the material somewhere else?

                  If porn is by law unavailable in elementary schools, but is available in society at large, then it’s not “banned” as DeSantis haters constantly (and falsely) claim. Thousands of books are published every year. If a school library stocks books A and B, but per the public school code it doesn’t stock C and D, that doesn’t mean C and D are banned books. They’re legal and available in brick-and-mortar bookstores, online bookstores, and Amazon. So, they’re not banned.

                  As far a drag shows in elementary schools, all you have to do is type “drag shows in elementary schools” into google and you’ll get hundreds of examples. Here’s one example caught on video:


        2. This comment by Enigma about where and who Turley provides his opinion for is biased, ignorant, and lacks honesty. Read the column you are posting to. I will quote Turley “Below is my column in the Hill on achieving “kindness” through corporate censorship:”

          Your complaint above tells us more than anyone wants to know about you.

      1. UpstateFarmer, I probably should have said there is little difference between the NY Post and Fox News except the type of media. Anything said on Fox News will fly with the NY Post. The Hill makes more of an effort to be factual and many of the things Turley says elsewhere never makes it to USA today that has to appeal to mainstream readers. I have no opinion on The Messenger, too soon to tell.

        1. Seeing as how if he writes for any of the news outlets I mention above, they make it to his blog.
          Seems to me, reading for a number of years now, the good professor is consistent in his tone and writing style no matter which outlet he is writing for.
          As for his literal smile on Fox News, I will take your word for it. You watch more Fox News than I ever have. The only time I have watched Fox News is if it was on in a restaurant or bar.
          And that is not very often.

          1. “As for his literal smile on Fox News.”

            Upstate, when one has an agenda like Enigma without facts, one tends to make things up. Eventually, people recognize the fiction thrown out and disregard everything the person says.

  12. “Recently, former Twitter executive Anika Collier Navaroli testified on how she and her staff would remove anything they considered “dog whistles” and “coded” messaging.”

    If only Leftists hear dog whistles then one can only conclude Leftists are dogs themselves, right?

  13. Another “friendly” place to go is a Sex Education Summer Camp” in Mankato, MN. It’s unknown whether the gift card will work at the sponsors Planned Parenthood facility.

    Planned Parenthood is offering $150 gift cards and free lunch for youth who participate in their week-long “sex ed summer camp,” according to an advertisement posted by the Planned Parenthood Minnesota Advocate’s Twitter account Thursday.

  14. Honestly, having watched from the beginning, Zuckerberg is one (along with Eric Schmidt and Bill Gates and a few others) that I think might be a legitimate sociopath. Just my opinion. You can’t ask someone like that to be reasonable or rational of their own volition. Web 2.0 was such a twisted and corrupted version of the original web it boggles the mind.

    They will never release the info unless forced to, and even then they will do everything they can to weasel and spin, guaranteed. I too am sure what has been revealed thus far regarding web censorship is just the tip of the iceberg.

    People should have paid more attention when Google showed their algorithms could manipulate search results to favor brands nigh on 20 years ago (and funnily enough, at that time many other companies in the Valley dissented and formed alternatives rather than jumping onboard out of a belief in fairness). No way it was going to be restricted to advertising; the time to act was then, but in 2008, along came Obama, who had Google operations set up *in* the White House. Some of those people now simply work for the party.

    1. James,
      I think you are right on. Those 3 people are either sociopaths or amoral. Of course one could use sociopath to define some one who is amoral but it is an old term. They seemed to steal ideas and have no problem with assuming that their opinion on any and everything is right and proper. We see this in doctors a great deal. Many are bright to brilliant but assume that since they are rich and bright means that they are experts in many other fields that they have no experience or training with. Just ask all the con men who take doctors to the cleaners on a regular basis.
      Steve Jobs did steal some ideas (from XEROX) but he was the true visionary that the other guys were not. We live closer to Steve Jobs ideas than the other guys who were mimics and hangers on. Computers – iPhones- iPads – internet -cloud and all interlinked is more Apple than anything else and he was far more truthful than any of the others but not perfect.

      1. “Steve Jobs did steal some ideas (from XEROX) . . .”

        That was a *trade* — pre-IPO investment for access to research and technology. How is that “stealing?”

  15. Threads is a copy of pre-Musk Twitter that had a business model of being a platform for the Woke Ideological Ghetto. If the Woke Ghetto Dwellers appreciate that, well OK.

    But related to Hate Speech, the Woke Universe hates on people simply because they had been born White and live in Iowa. That kind of ugly hate is a mainstay at the Woke Ghetto sites and tolerated by the moderators. About “disinformation”, did pre-Musk Twitter ever censor tweets that made the bogus claim that Russia stole the election for Donald Trump in 2016? The issue is not just that Right wing content is censored as Fake News, but also that Woke content which is obviously Fake News is not. The default assumption has to be that Threads will adopt the selective censorship policies of pre-Musk Twitter to subvert legitimate content not aligned with Woke ideology from being disseminated.

    Yes, the social media companies are private enterprises, but the people who use those sites are what drives their economic value stream. Since account owners are being used by the companies to make money, legislation should be passed that mandates explicit transparency for the status of all accounts on the social media sites. In other words, no “shadow banning” or other surreptitious punitive actions against account owners. If an account owner’s content is being restricted in any way, stating it up front to the owner and also to the visitors of the owners site page should be made mandatory.

    1. They make their money thru advertisers not account holders. Account holders agree to their terms of service before being allowed to post. If threads chooses to shadow ban or restrict content and it’s part of their policy then that’s what account holders who agreed to the terms should expect.

      1. “They make their money thru advertisers not account holders.”

        You don’t see any connection between those two?

    2. Facebook honed its censorship skills to serve the Chinese government so they could expand into that market. Then they needed to leverage that investment everywhere.

      Anti-whiteness is neo-racism. Martin Luther King, Jr. and John Roberts were right.

  16. LOL!! Do you really expect “a “sane” and “kind” alternative” from a a guy that poured millions of $ into election influence efforts?

    Get real, Zuck is a is doing nothing more than providing shelter for those pablum eaters that were left homeless after the Twitter game was exposed.

    Nothing better than having someone build you a big stadium to play T-ball in, right echo chamber dwellers?

    1. He’s created an echo chamber for those that can handle any views beyond their own. Pathetic and boring.

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