Craig Kelly in “Facebook jail”

The recent removal from Facebook of the account of Liberal MP Craig Kelly has sparked discussion about censorship concerns.

The treatment of the controversial Kelly is being described as being put in “Facebook Jail” to stop the spread of fake news.

Kelly’s account, which had 86,000 followers, was first suspended for his contentious COVID-19 allegations, and has now officially been removed.

His posts included promoting unproven hydroxychloroquine claims by Professor Dolores Cahill, sharing Roger Hodkinson’s argument against mask wearing and posting Thomas Borody’s advocacy to treat the virus with ivermectin.

Kelly continued to use his back-up accounts until they were removed a few days later as well as his Instagram account.

Facebook’s statement says his posts were not in line with their company guidelines violating their Harm and Misinformation Policies.

“We don’t allow anyone, including elected officials to share misinformation about COVID-19 that could lead to imminent physical harm.”

Facebook’s response has sparked a debate around whether this kind of online policing is a threat to free speech in Australia.

Australian correspondent for Reporters Without Borders and Curtin University adjunct associate professor Joseph Fernandez says Kelly’s case makes us question our democracy.  

Adelaide-based Nine News Reporter Josh Money says it is important organisations and individuals are held to account on social media.

“In the same way my employer has the right to fire or sanction me for posting inappropriate content, so too does Facebook and Twitter,” Money says.

“These websites have terms and conditions we all agree on when we sign up, and in my opinion, if those terms are violated it is the company’s prerogative to deal with it however they see fit.”

Many Australians have offered opinion on the decision to ban him.

Internet studies professor Tauel Harper from UWA says “Facebook jail” is not always an effective method to stop the spread of misinformation and can threaten freedom of speech.

“It doesn’t stop fake news proliferating it just removes the place where the validity of news can be discussed so it can appear blunt and tokenistic.”

“Silencing people we disagree with doesn’t serve the purpose of showing why and how they are wrong,” he says.

“At the same time gagging particular interest groups legitimises their feelings and further disengages them from ‘reasonable’ discussions,” Harper says.

Dr Fernandez says freedom of speech is not fully protected under Australia’s constitution and restraint is still important.  

“To argue for a right to freedom of speech in a country that does not constitutionally protect it, is to expect too much by way of the right,” he says.

“However, if the right is not properly exercised, lives can be lost and health can be harmed so should be restrained regarding these matters.”

Journalism professor at Edith Cowan University Trevor Cullen says social media platforms need to keep the public informed.

“Facebook needs to be more transparent about how they decide who is ‘jailed’ or not, or it will continue to appear like a subjective arbitrary process.”

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