Big Brother is Watching, but He Has Bad Vision

So wrote our friend Kate in a recent Facebook post regarding Facebook censorship. Unfortunately, we are the ones being censored.

As I’ve mentioned in my previous writing on Medium, my wife, Neelu, is Indian. She came to the United States for college, stayed to work, and now runs her own small yoga studio, Love Child. She has been in this country for 15 years, but still often faces ignorant questions about her nationality, her English, her rights as a green card holder.

Just the other night, a friend — a good friend, in fact, one who even came to India with us — asked her for whom she planned to vote in November.

Recently, Neelu was reflecting on media coverage of the American presidential election, and found herself led down a Google wormhole which resulted in accidentally unearthing the U.S. Government’s formal definition of a “Permanent Resident Alien”. Understandably, this struck a nerve, and our podcast, Not an Alien, was born a day later.

Devoted to sharing people’s immigration experiences in the US, Not an Alien met with animmediate warm response, and we were gratified to find both listeners and interviewees alike seeming moved by the stories being shared, as well as to see our modest following begin to grow.

We both run our own businesses, but nevertheless set the ambitious goal of posting an interview a day between September 26th and the election. We have, thus far, met that goal, and see it as our small contribution to political sanity in this country.

Five days ago, we were startled to receive notice from Facebook that our page for Not an Alien had been “unpublished”. Setting aside the bizarre newspeak that Facebook has chosen as their native parlance, we were at a loss to understand what could have possibly led to this outcome.

It was, of course, amusing that Facebook went ahead and billed us that same day for the small ad and page boosts we’d been running, and is amusing that they have continued to contact us about improving our reach, as you can see in the image above.

To avoid further redundancy, I’ll quote here the text of my own recent Facebook post:

Please consider this a request for your support. Facebook is censoring a project of ours which is near and dear to our hearts. We are hoping to bring attention to this censorship, and would appreciate if you would like and share this post, which I’m making public.

My wife immigrated to the US from India, and we recently launched a podcast, Not an Alien, to share people’s immigration stories. We are gratified at the warm reception it has received from listeners and participants alike, and were pleased to see it quickly start to gain a following.

On Thursday, Facebook abruptly “unpublished” the Not an Alien page with no explanation given and no recourse offered. We have submitted “Report a Problem” forms and submitted “Appeals”, but FB informs us that they “can’t reply individually” to such requests, and in three days, we have received no further communication on the matter.

Ironically, we had decided to run a small FB ad and boost a few of our posts, so the same morning that we learned that the NAA page had been shutdown, we also received notification that FB had billed our account. We wonder if they plan to continue billing us indefinitely.

Incidentally, with only a modicum of effort, one can unearth many pages on FB on the topic of immigration which do, likely, deserve to be “unpublished” owing to their vile racist and xenophobic content.

We are at a loss to understand what interest FB has in silencing immigrants. How many immigrants must FB employ here in the US?

Even more, we are alarmed and frightened to become the targets of such corporate censorship. Given the power that FB now wields, as disseminator and gatekeeper of content, I believe that we should all be concerned that FB seems to feel empowered to censor first, ask questions later, while all the while hiding behind their algorithm.

When FB censors iconic Vietnam War photojournalism or Palestinian journalists, we should be concerned. When FB automatically down votes conservative content, we should be concerned as well. Certainly, we should worry when FB collaborates with repressive governments to limit freedom of expression.

We would happily move off of FB’s platform, but there are simply not many other options at the moment if one hopes to reach a wide audience. We remain undeterred in our project, and will continue to post one interview a day on SoundCloud highlighting individuals’ immigration journeys:

Please keep listening! We appreciate your support.

Democracy Now! Colorlines Fairness & Accuracy In Reporting The Huffington Post Nytimes BuzzFeed Women Refugee Route IssueVoter Rebecca Solnit The New American Leaders Project

The irony of trying to fight Facebook censorship on Facebook is not lost on us, and, although, we’ve reached out — via the above post and directly — to a handful of media outlets, we’ve yet to find a way to expand our reach beyond our friends and friends of friends circles.

We are confident that we will, eventually, succeed in getting the page back up, though ideally, as our time allows, would like to create a website for Not an Alien and part ways with Facebook altogether. More to the point, we’re left wondering: How many voices out there are being silenced? How many small businesses being forced under? How many ambitions being extinguished?

I don’t think it bodes well for the future, and reiterate my previous call that we need to find new alternatives for organizing, sharing, and communicating that cut out these censorious middlemen.

In the meantime, here’s a petition that represents a baby step in the right direction.