‘State universities are preemptively censoring large swaths of protected speech and altering the public discourse with just a few clicks of the mouse…’
(Joshua Paladino, Liberty Headlines) Nearly four out of five American universities secretly censor comments on their social media pages, a survey conducted by the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education found.
FIRE said the findings show that universities are violating the First Amendment.
The group added that these policies have increased importance due to the current lockdown, which prevents parents and students from engaging with universities in person.
“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.
American universities ban a combined total of more than 1,800 words, which will be censored regardless of their context.
Universities censor “political figures, corporate partners, sports teams, faculty members and even an emoji,” FIRE reported.
As one might expect, universities barred users from posting about “Trump,” “Bernie” or “Hillary.”
But other banned words touched more directly on school policies. For example, the University of Kentucky‘s social media pages censor words including “birds,” “chicken,” “chickens” and “filthy.”
FIRE assumes that the university filters these words to prevent criticism of Aramark, one of the nation’s largest companies with a track record of health issues.
Suffolk County Community College in New York banned an extensive list of words, including “blizzard,” “snow,” “dangerous,” “slip,” “scared,” “irresponsible,” “tragedy,” and “accident,” “apologize,” “resign” and “disgrace.”
An additional benefit of automated content filters is that original posters of the blocked words oftentimes do not realize that their post has been censored.
Universities shadow-censor content with the help of tools like Facebook’s automated content filters.
These filters allow universities, and any institution on Facebook, to hide all content that comes from specific users so that other people do not see the prohibited posts.
Public figures on both sides of the aisle—notably President Donald Trump and Rep. Alexandria Ocasio–Cortez, D-NY—have been rebuked and threatened with lawsuits for their efforts to block abusive online users.
“There’s no social media exception to the First Amendment,” said Adam Steinbaugh, who wrote the report. “Government actors cannot sanitize public discourse—whether it’s President Trump blocking Twitter critics or American colleges filtering dissent on their social media accounts.”