Facebook’s censor of Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey’s campaign page lasted less than an hour Tuesday, but it was enough to heighten anxiety of critics who accuse the social media company of bias.
The post in question, from Friday, declared that Ivey is “standing in the way” of President Joe Biden’s proposed mandate that some 80 million workers for large employers get vaccinated. For a time on Tuesday, Facebook flashed a message indicating, “Your Page has Been Unpublished” for violating the company’s “Community Standards.”
Ivey fired off a defiant statement: “If big tech thinks they can silence us and that I won’t fight back, then honey, they haven’t met me. They have another thing coming. I’m not backing down. I never will. We’re fighting Washington. We’ll fight big tech too.”
Facebook told FOX10 News that the page incorrectly had been flagged as an imposter account.
“Earlier today, the Governor’s campaign page was mistakenly restricted for less than an hour for reasons unrelated to any posted content,” the company said in a statement. “When we learned of our mistake, the page was quickly restored.”
The Ivey campaign rejected Facebook’s explanation.
“This is a nonsense excuse. Facebook originally said they unpublished the page because of ‘harassment and bullying,’” the campaign told FOX10 News. “We fought back and got it restored. The political Facebook page of a sitting governor was banned after criticizing President Joe Biden’s overreach. They can call it a coincidence, but the people of Alabama can see right through big tech’s games.”
Facebook’s critics contend the incident highlights the inordinate power that the company and other social media companies have. Ryan Hartwig, who wrote a book last month accusing Facebook of treating conservative more harshly in enforcement of its speech policies, said prejudice is clear.
“I have at least 40 examples of them being biased towards one side,” said Hartwig, who’s book is “Behind the Mask of Facebook: A Whistleblower’s Shocking story of Big Tech Bias and Censorship.”
Hartwig worked for Cognizant, a company hired by Facebook, and toiled for two years a moderator for the social media site. He said it was apparent that Facebook had a political agenda and that it came from the top.
“Facebook does have a bias,” he said. “I mean, it’s beyond just anecdotal, beyond – it’s not just a talking point for Republicans to play the victim. This is actually ongoing.”
Robert Epstein, a senior research psychologist at the American Institute for Behavioral Research, told FOX10 News that his research shows Google, alone, shifted 6 million votes in the 2020 presidential election.
“Now I happen to like the direction, because I leave left myself,” he said. “But I think that’s unacceptable, because it takes away the free and fair election. It means the free and fair election is just an illusion.”
Epstein said Facebook has not been as aggressive as Google but argued it also is biased against conservatives.
“Sometimes they say it’s a mistake and then they fix it, and sometimes they just take it down permanently,” he said. “The question is, do we want private companies like Facebook and Google to have that kind of power? I don’t think they should have that kind of power to do this to anyone for any reason.”
Alabama State Auditor Jim Zeigler, a frequent Ivey critic who is exploring a Republican primary challenge against her, has a long list of grievances with the incumbent. But he stands with her in opposition to Facebook’s involvement in regulating speech.
The controversy, Zeigler said, helps distract attention from Ivey’s successful push to raise the gas tax, her unsuccessful attempt to build an Interstate 10 toll bridge and other issues.
“This action by Facebook, mistake or not, will actually help Governor Ivey with Alabama voters that, frankly, she needs help with,” he said.
Hartwig said Facebook polices speech on its site through a combination of “bots,” artificial intelligence that flags key words, and human moderators who review material. He said there are about 10,000 such moderators working in the United States.
He said when he was working, Facebook instructed moderators to scrutinized then-President Donald Trump’s State of the Union address for “hate speech.” Trump since has been banned from the platform.
Hartwig said Facebook would make exceptions to its own rules, often in favor of progressives.
“It’s more than just, you know, a few rogue content moderators,” he said. “This is clearly coming from the top.”
Facebook increasingly found itself in a please-neither-side position of angering conservatives who see bias while at the same time drawing fire from progressives who believe the company has not done enough to eliminate what they deem “misinformation” on COVID-19 and other topics.
Epstein said in the end, it does not really matter whether Facebook has been pressured into censoring or is an enthusiastic participant in it.
“I don’t really care. The question is who’s making the decisions?” he said. “Is it the American people making the decisions? Is it some nonpartisan organization that’s making the decisions? Is it a government agency? And no, it’s literally some executives are responsible, not to the public. They are responsible only legally to their shareholders.”
Updated at 8:53 a.m. on Sept. 15 to include the Ivey campaign’s response to Facebook’s explanation.