When corporations censor your communication: Facebook and police brutality
Alice Sperry and Sam Biddle report in The Intercept:
As more details emerge about last week’s killing by Baltimore County police of 23-year-old Korryn Gaines, activists have directed growing anger not only at local law enforcement but also at Facebook, the social media platform where Gaines posted parts of her five-hour standoff with police.
At the request of law enforcement, Facebook deleted Gaines’ account, as well her account on Instagram, which it also owns, during her confrontation with authorities. While many of her videos remain inaccessible, in one, which was re-uploaded to YouTube, an officer can be seen pointing a gun as he peers into a living room from behind a door, while a child’s voice is heard in the background. In another video, which remains on Instagram, Gaines can be heard speaking to her five-year-old son, who’s sitting on the floor wearing red pajamas.
“Who’s outside?” she asks him. “The police,” he replies timidly. “What are they trying to do?” “They trying to kill us.”
Statements made by officials in the days after the incident revealed little-known details of a “law enforcement portal” through which agencies can ask for Facebook’s collaboration in emergencies, a feature of the site that remains mostly obscure to the general public and which has been criticized following Gaines’ death.It’s not the first time Facebook has become the stage on which violent encounters between law enforcement and residents play out — and it seems likely more and more such incidents will be documented on the social media hub, given that the company’s livestreaming app, Facebook Live, is only nine months old and spreading at a time when recording police has become an instinctive reflex in some communities. Gaines herself had filmed her interactions with police before, even instructing her son to do the same.But while it’s common for police to ask Facebook to provide them with users’ information, many observers are troubled that the social media giant would take down accounts at the request of law enforcement.
So far, Facebook seems to have struggled with its role at the heart of the national conversation on race and policing. Just last month, the site removed live video posted by the girlfriend of Philando Castile, a 32-year-old African-American man who was shot during a traffic stop in a suburb of St. Paul, Minnesota. Castile’s girlfriend, Diamond Reynolds, started livestreaming and narrating his death seconds after police shot him, garnering nationwide attention. On that occasion, Facebook said the video’s disappearance, which lasted about an hour, was due to a “technical glitch.” It later reinstated the post, with an added graphic-content warning, and the video has since been viewed 5.7 million times.
Then last week, before Gaines was killed, Facebook deactivated her accounts in response to a request by Baltimore County police — drawing criticism that it censored free speech and even accusations that it was complicit in her death. The accounts have since been reinstated, but most of the videos have not. . .