What do Facebook and the Met police have in common?


Nothing gets my cackles up like an institution fundamentally misunderstanding or wilfully ignoring its responsibilities. Whether it's the cops or Facebook. Let's start with the cops.

I found myself absolutely enraged last week listening to the various representatives of the Metropolitan Police in England & Wales explain in painstaking detail all the ways that women can:

  • know more
  • do more (e.g. just hail a bus!)
  • and make changes

...in order to be sure that a police officer is actually lawfully detaining them and not abducting them.

All of this in the wake of a police officer arresting, raping, murdering, and disposing of the body of a woman. A police officer who had many, many registered complaints about his behaviour including documented instances of flashing caught on CCTV (as recently as 3 days before he murdered Sarah Everard).

This entire story demonstrates how horrible police officers can be, and how unlikely they are to be fired. This is because of a cult of silence: a propaganda-fueled white-safety narrative paired with unthinking valorising of police in general, and bizarre incentives for public officials. These continue to be a threat to public safety until they end up on the front pages and are quietly put on paid leave while they move through the court process (if that even happens). And rather than seeing that as the problem, the public are encouraged to forensically unpick the incident, wondering what the victim could have done to prevent their own murder.

So what does this have to do with Facebook?

A few weeks ago, among the the torrents of Facebook leaks, was laid bare something that most of us suspected was happening: Facebook set up a tiered review process that held high profile figures to lower content moderation standards than regular users. It takes more to remove a post or suspend an account when you have significant offline power.

This all reminds me of a media studies concept (or an idea I learned in a media studies class) about 'bureaucratic affinity'. It's the idea that the reason mainstream newspapers were, or are, so consistently aligned with government narrative, is because a large news institution that publishes once a day has to guarantee that they will have stories. Governments have the resources to say, hold a press conference every morning at 9am, so they are much more likely to get covered — because a daily press conference is a reliable source of news.

This concept from legacy media carries over: for Facebook, these huge figures give them the thing they value the most: engagement. And a high profile person has more connection with the logics, timings, prestige, and incentives of a Facebook.

Both the Facebook and Sarah Everard incidents make very clear:

  • Cops are held to lower standards than civilians despite their ability to cause far more harm with weapons and status;
  • High profile people are left untouched on large online platforms, even though they are much more likely to do damage just by expressing an 'opinion'.

And yet we, the regular people are expected to somehow enforce the rules that govern our own safety. We must arm ourselves with the knowledge of what rights a cop has to arrest us; we must do our best to protect ourselves online by using the block button and disengaging with trolls — we have the least power in these situations, but the greatest responsibility.

To your mind, what other institutions have this kind of misaligned sense of responsibility?



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