What Facebook doesn’t want you to know

 

The big social media platforms and tech companies wield excessive power on the world wide web, and not everyone is happy with how they use this power.

Because the companies are privately owned, they are essentially allowed to police the platforms as they choose, meaning they can delete content that goes against their policies (long documents that you could argue no one should be forced to read, or indeed lie about saying they have, in order to access a social media platform).

All encompassing polices and terms of conditions for services that you have to agree to in order to use those services was one of many issues highlighted in the consumer watchdog's Digital Platforms Inquiry last year.

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The issue of social media censorship is often politicised as well.

People will draw party lines over what figures are removed from platforms for what reasons, though this is often a case of confirmation bias, unless you sit around tracking every post that's ever removed from social media and the views of their authors, though this will likely require a lot of tinfoil and red string to adequately track.

Many people have been kicked off social media platforms for a variety of reasons.

It could be because they've been deemed to spread hate speech by spreading theories and opinions that, even when sincerely held, violate a social media site's policies.

It could be because their posts have been reported for review too many times, perhaps not always genuinely.

Sometimes people are even kicked off platforms for making what they (and others may) think are funny jokes, but which don't meet the social media platform's own standards for comedy.

Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey attracted the ire of US President Donald Trump for obscuring his tweets behind a warning that they may have violated his company’s policies but would be left up due to public interest. Picture: Francois Mori/AP
Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey attracted the ire of US President Donald Trump for obscuring his tweets behind a warning that they may have violated his company’s policies but would be left up due to public interest. Picture: Francois Mori/AP

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Far-right "provocateurs" (often more focused on prompting reactions to their views than enlightening anyone with them) like Alex Jones and Milo Yiannopoulos felt Facebook's wrath in 2018 when they were kicked off the platform.

US President Donald Trump recently made threats towards Twitter and announced an executive order targeting social media after it hid some of his tweets behind a warning (it didn't delete the tweets or suspend his account though).

Before the US comedian and rapper Zack Fox recorded the "meaningless, terrible" (his words) viral hit Jesus Is The One (I Got Depression), he was kicked off Twitter in 2017 for joking that the far more popular and powerful musician Diplo only wanted the US Muslim travel ban lifted because "Persian girls are so hot", as Diplo tweeted.

Fox returned but was kicked off again a few years later following what he theorised could have been a co-ordinated mass reporting attack involving stolen accounts, after some users that Twitter informed about the ban expressed confusion about never reporting or even hearing of him.

Australian comedian Becky Lucas was also kicked off Twitter in 2018 for joking about cutting off the Prime Minister's head.

It's important to note that there's no legal requirement for the platforms to actually support free speech, which is also not enshrined in any Australian law.

President Donald Trump holds up a copy of the New York Post as he speaks before signing an executive order aimed at curbing protections for social media giants last month. Picture: Evan Vucci/AP
President Donald Trump holds up a copy of the New York Post as he speaks before signing an executive order aimed at curbing protections for social media giants last month. Picture: Evan Vucci/AP

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While battles over what opinions should be allowed by social media platforms rage on, it's ironic social media platforms are themselves the creators of this problem and its ongoing causes.

In the past it was incredibly difficult to gain a platform to get your opinions heard.

You'd have to go to extraordinary measures, such as training as a journalist, cracking your way into the established media, then working the right nets and licking the right boots until you can finally grift your way to a cushy gig typing up one or two flavourless columns per week (a four-dimensional chess move that ordinarily takes decades, but which this reporter is personally hoping to pull off within the next five to seven years).

This process is far from perfect but does at least promote some accountability and oversight.

Social media democratised the ability to get your voice heard, but it means you are liable to being censored by those platforms (or sued for defamation if someone doesn't like the things you say, as in the law's eyes the social media platforms are not liable for the things posted by users).

BUT HERE'S WHAT THE BIG SOCIAL MEDIA GIANTS DON'T WANT YOU TO KNOW

It's actually very easy to make your own website, where you can say whatever you want, without worrying about being censored by an algorithm or dobbed on by users who don't agree with you.

While this doesn't absolve you of legal responsibility (and in fact brings with it additional responsibilities) for the things you say, it does give you (mostly) complete control over the website's content.

The obvious exception is if your website is hosting "abhorrent violent material", which includes audio or video depicting terrorism, murder, attempted murder, rape, kidnapping or torture.

If so, the eSafety Commissioner can order you to take the website down, and have it blocked from Australian netizens if you refuse.

The Commissioner is conservative about what content it will request be taken down though, telling news.com.au earlier this year that Australians deserve to be protected against the potential harm caused by this content, but the threshold for what content we need protecting from needs to be very high "in a society that values freedom of expression".

Unless you're hosting vision or audio of actual, far worse crimes on your website, you shouldn't run into much trouble.

So how can you create your online panacea of free speech?

FIRST YOU NEED A DOMAIN

We'll cover that in the next section.
We'll cover that in the next section.

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This is the name that corresponds to the IP address of the server where your website is hosted (which we'll get to in a second).

Our domain is news.com.au, but yours can be whatever you want (if it's still available).

Hundreds of millions of domains have been registered over the years so it may take you a while before you can find one you want.

Your own real name may still be available but could have been snapped up by a more tech savvy namesake in the past.

You can register a domain through well known websites like GoDaddy and Hover, or pretty much any other site that shows up when you search for domain name registration.

Some sites will provide WHOIS protection you can use to conceal your identity as the domain name owner, but given the whole point of this experiment is to give you a platform for speech, some might consider using this protection a coward's move.

It could be useful if you are worried about being "doxxed" by people who don't like your opinions though.

NEXT YOU'LL NEED A HOST

A website "host" controls and maintains the computer servers that hold the information that appears on your website.

Technically you can do this yourself but it's a very complicated process we won't go into here, but that you might want to research if you desire full autonomous control.

Most web hosts do so for purely financial motives and are unlikely to rip your website down over the opinions you express, particularly on your own personal website.

Host CloudFlare, which previously defended the importance of it allowing white supremacist websites and those for other hate groups to be hosted on its servers, abandoned the board 8Chan after a number of mass shootings linked to the site, and after site administrators refused to take any steps to moderate its content.

Your host is unlikely to do that you, but if they do it sounds like you'll get a chance to change your ways before it happens.

You can also set up your domain so it instead redirects to a blog on a platform like Wix or Wordpress, which make it easier to quickly create websites and post content on the internet and can help you avoid having to do …

THE HARDEST PART

Children around the country now learn to code at school, and you’ll have to learn how to. Picture: Liam Kidston
Children around the country now learn to code at school, and you’ll have to learn how to. Picture: Liam Kidston

You've got the back-end of your website handled, now its time for the front-end, which will involve learning how to code.

This is where the learning curve starts looking like a March 2020 chart of new coronavirus cases.

The content you read on the internet is often presented in stylish and beautiful ways, but this is the result of decades of design finetuning and the increased skills and capabilities of web designers.

If you're new to web design you're going to have to learn several new languages in order to code your page so people can read it on their web browser.

Online coding educators like Codecademy and Udemy can give you some of the tools you'll need to get coding, though it can take a while to grasp and you might have to pay for some lessons.

HTML and CSS should be your main focus at first, but you may get suitably advanced that you can tackle more complex languages like JavaScript and Python.

You can write code just using the notepad app on your computer, or with specialist programs designed to help like Adobe Dreamweaver.

You then upload these pages to the host you selected earlier, and before long your opinions will appear at your domain name, ready for consideration and discussion in the open forum of the online.

NOW FOR THE ACTUALLY HARDEST PART

Once you've got content on your website you can turn your attention to attracting visitors.

There are billions of websites (though not all active), so it can be hard to stand out and bring in audiences.

Optimising your web page to target certain keywords that people search for on Google can help attract readers, but be warned the Google may alter its algorithms with little notice, and you can see sudden drops in your audience due to this.

Social media is another key way to attract visitors to your website, so you may wish to consider creating a Facebook or Twitter account to direct readers to your own personal website where you can speak freely.

As you can see, getting away from the influence and power of social media platforms is far from easy, but nothing worth doing ever is.

Will you be making your own website now too? Let us know what else you need help with in the comments below.

Originally published as What Facebook doesn't want you to know


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