FIRE: 77% of Universities Use Facebook’s Secret Social Media Blacklists to Censor the Public

WASHINGTON, DC - APRIL 10: Facebook co-founder, Chairman and CEO Mark Zuckerberg arrives to testify before a combined Senate Judiciary and Commerce committee hearing in the Hart Senate Office Building on Capitol Hill April 10, 2018 in Washington, DC. Zuckerberg, 33, was called to testify after it was reported that …
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A whopping 77 percent of top colleges and universities funded by taxpayer dollars use a secret social media blacklist created by Facebook to censor the public, which the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE) says is in violation of the First Amendment. The censored terms differ between universities but aren’t limited to controversial or political terms. For example, one New York community college censors words related to winter weather, like “snow” and “blizzard.”

The majority of top publicly-funded colleges and universities use a blacklist of secret words — with the help of Facebook — to automatically censor comments on university social media pages, according to a new survey by FIRE published on Wednesday. The findings were extracted from public records belonging to nearly 200 top college and universities.

FIRE added that such practices are in violation of the First Amendment.

According to the organization, the schools compile custom lists which collectively block more than 1,800 unique terms on their social media pages, and secret filters automatically remove comments mentioning political figures, corporate partners, sports teams, faculty members, and even an emoji.

Some of the banned content also includes issues of local and national concern, campus controversies, criticism of school’s corporate partners or sports teams, and even the weather, according to FIRE.

The University of Kentucky, for example, blocks the words “birds,” “chicken,” “chickens,” and “filthy” — likely to censor criticism of Aramark, the company that provides food for the university.

Several schools — like Portland State University, Oklahoma State University, the University of Arizona, and the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill — banned names of political candidates, such as “Trump,” “Bernie,” or “Hillary.”

Meanwhile, Suffolk County Community College in New York censors posts regarding cold weather, which include words like “blizzard,” “snow,” “dangerous,” “slip,” “scared,” “irresponsible,” “tragedy,” and “accident.” The school also blocks “apologize,” “resign,” and “disgrace.”

At Georgia State University, the Twitter account “Georgia for Bernie” is censored. At Mississippi State University, the term Legalize Marijuana in Mississippi” is blocked.

Meanwhile, the University of Utah blocks animal rights activists, including PETA, the University of Alaska Anchorage banned an “Alaskans4Trump” account, and the University of Oklahoma censors an emoji.

“State universities are preemptively censoring large swaths of protected speech and altering the public discourse with just a few clicks of the mouse — and Facebook gives them all the tools they need to do it,” said FIRE Executive Director Robert Shibley.

FIRE suggests that Facebook release the contents of the secret blacklist, limit the tools available to government accounts, and inform users if their comment has been filtered on a government actor’s page.

“Around the country, our public institutions are quietly determining which specific words can be part of the public dialogue,” said Adam Steinbaugh, the author of FIRE’s report.

“FIRE has spent years fighting this fight on campus, and protecting freedom of expression online is all the more important as the coronavirus pandemic drives our communities online,” he added.

Facebook did not respond to Breitbart News’ request for comment.

You can follow Alana Mastrangelo on Twitter at @ARmastrangelo, and on Instagram.


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