Type into Google or any other search engine ‘Social Media’ with ‘Occupy Wall Street’ or ‘Egyptian Revolution’ and I assure you there will be dozens of articles on how social media is changing the game of protesting. It is true that social media is giving the bottom power to communicate relative to social institutions, something that wasn’t possible before the creation of Facebook and Twitter. However, what much of the public has failed to acknowledge is that Facebook and Twitter in itself is a social institution. In 2011 alone, Facebook’s revenue is estimated to reach $4.27 billion— with a company that large and expanding that quickly, its not surprising that it is trying to protect its assets. Social media sites such as Facebook and Twitter reserve the right to censor, block and even remove a persons account if it is seen as abusive to the site.
What is surprising on the other hand is how much power Facebook is giving individuals to decide what is and is not abusive. While browsing the alternative news blog Addicting Info I came across an article entitled “Facebook Opens Doors To A New Way of Suppressing Information, Activists Constantly Banned”. This was the first time I had found an article that wasn’t glorifying Facebook as a tool for change; not surprising, it was coming from an alternative new source verses the mainstream media. The author of the article explained how he was participating in a sit-in in the Wisconsin Capitol and posting live videos from the inside in order to communicate with those who were locked out. Almost immediately he was receiving slanderous comments from those supporting the Wisconsin GOP claiming that the author was a “woman beater, a deadbeat dad and that [he] lied about [his] medical issues”: all complete lies. The author dubbed these individuals “online trolls” in which they were paid by institutions to create social and moral panic and demoralize activists standing against their campaigns. These trolls even went as far as creating multiple fake profiles in order to report activists on Facebook. And the sad truth is, if you get enough reports there is no way to dispute it and your Facebook is blocked and then no more online activism.
This is a real thing too. I had my doubts while reading this article initially, so I typed in “professional blog warriors” into Google. What I found was plenty of advertisements specifically for people to hire in order to promote an individual or campaign by cutting down and slandering bloggers who oppose them. So while mainstream media is celebrating social media as the tool for democracy, I can’t help but wonder if the public is receiving a mediated version of the information posted on Facebook. Although Facebook and Twitter have been excellent tools for rallying protestors, it also has its limitations and we have to remember that Occupy Wall Street isn’t over before we start accrediting Facebook for the win.