Facebook’s ‘war on memes’ amounts to dangerous censorship

February 6, 2017 — by Caitlin Ju

Facebook's fight with memes may have deeper implications

2016 was the year of the memes, but it seems that they are not fading just yet. A daily scroll through my Facebook newsfeed still presents memes of the latest trends, whether they are of evil Kermit the Frog or of unfortunate individuals who have had their bad photographs turned into memes.

A meme is defined as a virally transmitted cultural symbol or social idea, and these captioned photographs and videos often make fun of human behavior or seek to be relatable. The comments of these memes are filled with users tagging each other, bonding over their distaste of math or affinity for alcohol.

But it seems like these memes that have become the treasured staple of Facebook are now in danger. In the past year, Facebook has cracked down on many meme pages, arbitrarily deleting more and more groups. The meme pages make up Weird Facebook, a subculture of meme pages, secret groups, friend networks and personalities. Users insist the deletions are done without warning and for unspecified community standard violations.

These pages also claim that Facebook has waged a war on memes, but the more important issue at hand is censorship. In retaliation to this censorship, popular meme pages have turned Facebook founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg’s last name into the verb “zucked” or “zucced,” which means to have one’s page deleted. Pages with thousands of followers that have been unpublished include Cabbage Cat and Gangster Popeye.

It is unclear whether the removal of these meme pages is a result of human review or Facebook’s algorithm, but the easy, spontaneous removal of pages that took a significant time to build has fired up users. In any case, though Facebook as a private industry can legally shut down these pages, if Facebook leaders want to retain the platform’s reputation as a forum for free speech, it would be wise for them to review these pages thoroughly before thinking of removing them.

The meme pages claim the injustice lies in verified pages being held to a different, looser set of standards, and this disparity can be found across all social media sites, especially Twitter and Instagram. Pages and accounts, such as those of social media personality Tila Tequila and those against comedian Leslie Jones, blatantly spout racist and Neo-Nazi tweets, yet are left up and only removed after public outcry. Freedom of speech indeed seems to come easier for verified pages and leaves users doubtful of the fairness of these sites’ already vague content policies.

You do not have to be the biggest fan of memes, even those that declare the wonderful bromance between Joe Biden and Barack Obama or display the cutest Corgis, to see that these meme pages have a point. If Facebook can remove pages without warning, never has to be held accountable for deletions and gives privileges to verified pages, there is indeed a war that needs to be started — one against corporate censorship.  

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