Facebook blocked me.
What did I do?
Did I post Russian-sponsored propaganda?
Did I post Nazi or racist memes?
Did I post fraudulent or debunked accounts of factual events?
So what did I do?
I had an opinion.
I took that opinion and wrote about it. I backed it up with facts, analogies, literary references and examples from my own experience as a classroom teacher in public school.
I took all that, wrote it up in a blog called “The False Paradise of School Privatization,” and posted it on Facebook.
It was the same kind of thing I do several times a week.
Write a blog. Post it on various Facebook pages and on Twitter.
And wait to see if anyone reads it.
But this time – BOOM!
I hadn’t even posted it to a handful of pages before the cyber arm of Mike Zuckerberg’s robo-security came down on me.
The same thing happened in October when I wrote an article called “School Choice is a Lie. It Does Not Mean More Options. It Means Less.”
I had hoped that that first time was just a fluke or that by now I had since sufficiently proven myself to be a human being and not some nefarious bot.
But no such luck.
After posting my latest article a few times on Monday, I got this message:
You have been temporarily blocked from performing this action.”
And I got a choice of clicking on:
“This is a mistake”
So I clicked on “This is a mistake,” and got the following:
“Thanks for letting us know.”
My only choice was to click “OK.”
At some point I got a message telling me that I was blocked until Dec. 11 – a full week from my offense.
And now I have limited use of the social media platform.
I can still see posts.
I can like posts.
For some reason, I can even post and comment on my own page. But I can’t comment or post on other pages without getting the same error message.
At least I can’t do it consistently.
I’ve experimented and found that sometimes I can share posts to different pages. Sometimes I can’t.
It’s a bizarre, wonky system.
And it gets in the way of my work as an education blogger.
Facebook has more than 1.5 billion accounts. That includes more than 80% of all Americans.
Sharing my blog on the site gets me more readers than anywhere else.
Twitter is great and certainly more free. But when you push out a tweet, no one sees it unless they’re looking at their feed at that exact moment. Unless it gets retweeted – or you’re a famous unhinged former reality TV star turned President, then people seek out your own personal brand of nuclear-apocalypse-threatening madness.
So why does this keep happening to me?
I have two theories.
1) I am being purposefully censored by Facebook.
2) Facebook algorithms are targeting me because of how I post.
Let’s look at the first theory.
Could someone be actively censoring me?
The proposal has a certain plausibility because the powers that be at Facebook undoubtedly disagree with what I have to say.
Mark Zuckerberg, Facebook’s founder, is a huge supporter of edtech, standardized testing and school privatization. He’s spent hundreds of millions of dollars trying to make public schools rely more heavily on high stakes tests, evaluating teachers on their students’ scores and pushing Personalized Education software packages on public schools. And when that doesn’t pan out, he’s even backed his own charter schools to do the same.
But that’s not all.
Since early January of this year, he’s had Campbell Brown on the job as the arbiter of truth for his on-line platform.
Brown, a school privatization lobbyist and former NBC and CNN personality, heads Facebook’s News Partnership Team.
The newly created position was part of Zuckerberg’s attempt to limit fake news on his social media platform while prioritizing information in the mainstream media.
What exactly is fake news? Whatever Campbell Brown says it is.
This is quite a lot of power to give one person, especially someone who has a reputation for partisanship.
Brown, after all, co-founded a charter school propaganda network called The 74, funded – unsurprisingly – by Betsy DeVos, Republican mega-donor and current Secretary of Education.
After leaving the anchor’s desk, Brown has had a second career helping corporations destroy public schools and public school teachers.
And she does. Not. Like. Me.
Let’s just say we’ve gotten into a few Twitter skirmishes.
When she became the face of a New York lawsuit attacking teacher tenure in 2014, she received a tidal wave of public backlash. So she went on the Colbert Report to complain about how those fighting for workplace protections for themselves and their students were “silencing the debate” on how best to reform public education.
I responded with a blog called “Shhh! Who’s Silencing the Debate on Real Education Reform” claiming that Brown was actually doing the very thing she claimed to be decrying in shutting out teachers’ voices and rights.
She responded by cherry picking her rudest critics and tweeting “Sorry Steve but sadly this is not what I characterize as debate,” as if I had had anything to do with these comments.
As if any movement should be judged by its most extreme elements.
As if attacking someone’s job, someone’s kids and their future was fine so long as you did so with a smile and a polite comeback.
I don’t condone personal attacks, but I certainly understand them. In any case, Brown used the extreme fringes of her critics to condemn us all and conveniently refused to engage us – even those who had been unceasingly polite.
That lawsuit eventually failed, but Brown somehow landed on her feet.
Now she’s the one who gets to choose truth and falsity on Facebook.
Could she be actively working against people like me?
Could she be directing Facebook’s programmers to select against posts that are negative to her pet projects?
But there’s no way to know if she’s actually doing it.
Which brings me to my second theory.
Perhaps mindless Facebook algorithms are targeting me because of how I post.
I do, after all, try to post my articles on as many pages as I can.
They’re mostly pages focused on education and education policy with a few political and anti-racism sites thrown in, too.
Maybe I’m posting too quickly.
I might be triggering one of Zuckerberg’s bots to think I’m a bot, too, spamming up the works with advertising.
However, there’s a few problems with this theory.
Let’s say it’s true.
Why would that, alone, be reason to block me?
I’m not posting advertisements. I’m not asking for money. My blog doesn’t sell adds other than those WordPress puts on there, itself, so I can keep the page for free.
If an algorithm is stopping me because it thinks I’m unfairly selling something, it’s the result of some badly written code, indeed.
When programmers write code, that’s not impartial. It betrays their values. It betrays certain decisions about what’s acceptable and what isn’t.
For instance, I keep getting advertisements from Facebook asking me to pay money to the social media network so that they’ll post my articles on other people’s site for me.
I get reminders like “Boost this post for $3 to reach up to 580 people.”
So I’m blocked because I posted my own writing to sites that have accepted me as a member and whose membership includes many I consider friends and colleagues. But for a fee, Facebook will post that same article to various sites filled with people I’d consider to be complete strangers.
Somehow that doesn’t “violate community standards” – the reason they said they blocked me in October.
This is very telling.
It seems to indicate that there is nothing wrong with what I’m doing, per se. It’s just that Facebook wants to encourage me to let them do it for me – so they can monetize my account.
They’re stopping me from doing this on my own, because they think I’m a sucker who should pay them for the right to communicate with others.
And that’s a very real possibility.
These blockages may not be political. They may be a simple marketing strategy.
So what can I do about it?
Well, first I need to wait a week until my account is unfrozen and I get back all the features Facebook users usually enjoy.
Then I can try to go back to the way things were posting my articles at all my favorite virtual watering holes.
Much more slowly.
I figure if I only post once every five minutes or so, I can have my article at all the places that seem to like having them in about the course of an evening.
But I have a life, damn it!
I can’t spend the twilight hours posting and waiting and posting and waiting.
I guess another alternative is to rely on friends to post for me.
Spread the love.
Have others circulate my articles far and wide.
And that’s a great strategy. It’s very hard for Facebook to do anything about it.
But it requires me to impose on others. I don’t like doing it.
My readers, friends and supporters have lives, too.
They have more important things to do than post my writing all over the Internet.
So where does that leave me?
I’m not sure.
If I continue as I have, I’m bound to be blocked and thrown in Facebook Jail again.
Even if I don’t, I’m at the mercy of the wealthy elites who control the network.
And if the FCC does away with Net Neutrality, as they’re threatening to do in a matter of days, it may not even matter.
Regardless of where I post on Facebook, my blog site will probably be slow to the point of molasses and maybe even shut down entirely.
This is the brave new world of the plutocracy unrestrained.
This is American fascism triumphant.
I am only a single point of the resistance.
My voice is only as powerful as those who share it.
If Facebook, Twitter or WordPress somehow takes me down, I’ve written a book, “Gadfly on the Wall: A Public School Teacher Speaks Out on Racism and Reform,” now available from Garn Press. Ten percent of the proceeds go to the Badass Teachers Association. Check it out!