Meta Threads Platform Accused Of Censorship

Meta rolled out a text-based social media platform in July and the platform is already drawing ire for an apparent attempt at censoring the types of information users can search for. In an article by the Washington Post on September 11, the paper reported that users were blocked from searching for topics relating to coronavirus, COVID-19, and vaccines. The site automatically redirected users to the Centers for Disease Control website.

Threads was created as an alternative to X, formerly Twitter, after that site was purchased by Elon Musk. Musk immediately dismantled many of the safeguards in place to prevent hate speech and the spreading of ideas viewed as “fake news” or “misinformation.”

Meta released a statement on Monday addressing the blocked search terms. In the statement, they claim that the banned terms are only temporary while the company determines the reliability of results. Meta did not release a full list of terms that are currently blocked, but users pointed out that most terms that are viewed as “sensitive content” are currently returning no search results.

Healthcare organizations are concerned that the blocking of terms related to coronavirus is likely to cause harm to users who often use social media to share and gain information. The United States has seen a recent increase in the number of COVID-19 cases nationwide in recent months. Infections are up 16% according to CDC data but continue to remain lower than in the same time period last year.

Meta believes that by blocking certain terms, the company can affect the spread of false information. Recently, CEO Mark Zuckerberg admitted that the U.S. government requested that certain aspects of COVID science be censored as disinformation which later were shown to be factual.

A University of California professor of technology and disinformation, Hany Farid, told the Post that blocking specific terms is a “blunt tool” that is ultimately ineffective. Farid said that users will create synonyms in order to get around the censorship.

Particular criticism has been levied at Threads and the algorithm used to censor COVID-19-related terms, particularly by individuals suffering from long COVID Users point out that social media was the only way individuals suffering from symptoms of long COVID could exchange information as it was not recognized by medical science. The term “long COVID” was created by a Twitter user before being adopted by the CDC.

Users of X also report that since the takeover by Musk, connecting with others has become more difficult and dangerous. Long COVID sufferers reportedly have faced criticism for sharing their experiences.

Meta has stated that the goal of the platform is not to focus on sharing “hard news,” but rather as a way for users to interact with one another. By taking what the company calls a “hands-off” approach, they hope to see a reduction in politically-based opinions. Critics view the blocking of specific terms as a means of controlling the conversation about topics without having to extensively moderate the content users provide.