Michael Field: Freedom at midday – stories from Facebook prison

"Self-sustaining and completely devoid of any human intervention, GAM - the Great Algorithm Machine - has deemed me to be a serial hate speech offender. I am absolutely not, but my protests were not only pointless, there was no one listening or reading them." Image: Michael Field

COMMENTARY: By Michael Field

Just the other day a robot guard came along a corridor in a special digital prison, consulted his flatscreen embedded on its wrist and then pressed his thumb on a door, which sprang open.

For the fourth time, I was being released from Facebook prison having served a term of imprisonment imposed upon me by Great Algorithm Machine which we lags shorten to GAM.

Self-sustaining and completely devoid of any human intervention, GAM has deemed me to be a serial hate speech offender. I am absolutely not, but my protests were not only pointless, there was no one listening or reading them.

Again, with no human hand involved at any point, I was hauled off to solitary inside the Mark Zuckerberg Institution for Global Speech Control.

Now, living in Aotearoa and having our Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern create the Paris Call, a powerful new weapon to end online hate speech, it is my patriotic duty to support it.

But lately I have become collateral damage to her Paris Call, and a nagging thought is growing that there may be many other casualties too. Stopping the nutters, the terrorists, the bad guys might additionally include GAM wiping out any one expressing any kind of opinion.

Especially opinions that a human reader — rather than a machine — would immediately recognise as arguments opposed to opinions advanced by bad guys.

Silence save the banal
Algorithms will silence all, except the banal, the bland, the boring and the pointless.

As GAM will run all my words through its system, I am going to avoid using the commonly accepted abbreviation for the National Socialist German Workers Party. Nor will I mention its leader; that’s a fast ticket back to a Menlo Park prison.

After some trepidation, I present a summary of my rap sheet:

October 11, 2021: I made a small posting based on a clipping from New Zealand Paper’s Past, a significant historical online collection of the nation’s newspapers. I posted a little story from the Bay of Plenty Times in 1941 which reported that people in Fiji, Tonga and Samoa were raising money to buy Spitfires in order to defeat the previously mentioned German Workers Party and its leader. I was prevented from any posting or commenting for three weeks.

February 18, 2022: As an anti-covid “freedom convoy” rattled around the country, I posted a meme showing the Workers Party leader in front of the Eiffel Tower, saying he was on a freedom convoy. Locked up again.

May 26, 2022: I posted a link to US CBS News on some new arms non-control measure and commented: “The continued stupidity of (Redacted, insert nationality of a people between Canada and Mexico) bewilders the world.” This got me a big “Hate Speech” stamp, a ban and a declaration that my future posts would be lower in people’s news feeds.

September 13, 2022: I asked why accused woman beater Meli Banimarama and convicted killer Francis Kean were using the “ratu” title. Banned again.

No human review
It was immediately apparent from the formatted notice issue to me, that while GAM had processed the thing, no human in Facebook had. Generously they tell the victim that there is a review system and to fill out a submission.

Dutifully, this gullible fellow did, pressed send and got an instant message back from GAM which said, in effect, that due to covid there were no available humans to read my submission. So, the sentence, imposed entirely by machine, stands every time.

It doesn’t matter what you say; no one is listening.

Facebook’s GAM is lying at this point: Covid has nothing to do with the removal of their humans. They are deliberately sacking them, due to Wall Street demands for more profit.

At one stage I discovered email addresses for assorted Facebook functionaries in Australia and New Zealand. That did no good. They ignored me, if they even existed.

Despite all this, I have been something of a Facebook fan. With Sue Ahearn, I co-manage The Pacific Newsroom with its 60,000 plus followers. The fact that I was in the digital slammer meant that group did not get serviced in the way they normally would.

Facebook plainly does not care.

My worry now is what is all this doing to free speech. At first blush, yes it’s a good idea that something like Mein Kampf cannot be trotted out on Facebook. But wouldn’t it be a good idea for some one or ten to read it and warn us all of what is in it?

Digital trip wires
Currently GAM is looking you up, digitally speaking if certain trip wires are touched in the algorithm.

Paris Call’s GAM model has no space, or ability, to deal with satire, cynicism or sarcasm. Many would say that is, of course, a good thing. Ban them. But they have long been part of human discourse, indeed vital.

And it will silence Paper’s Past! A national treasure now defined by GAM as a gathering of hate speech.

What else do we have to give up to keep evil from exploiting public conversation?

How will we learn the new rules, other than with a spell in the digital penitentiary? Perhaps there will soon be an app, in which The Machine checks each sentence, prior to use, for social acceptability.

Is social media creating a world in which speech can only be made, after The Machine has deemed it acceptable?

Michael Field is an independent journalist and author, and co-manager of The Pacific Newsroom. This article is republished with his permission.

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