Censorship on college campuses can be problematic, especially if those campuses are public institutions.
“Restrictions on speech by public colleges and universities amount to government censorship, in violation of the Constitution,” wrote the American Civil Liberties Union. However, state universities and colleges, according to a report from the Foundation for Individual Rights (FIRE) in Education, are allegedly censoring comments on their official Facebook pages. One hundred and fifty-four universities seemingly used the Facebook profanity filters to block certain words and phrases from being placed in the comment section. More than 1,800 words have been collectively banned by these institutions, reportedly.
Courts have ruled that President Donald Trump and Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) are not allowed to block people from their Twitter accounts. According to FIRE, 87 percent of the universities who responded have specific blocklists on Facebook or Twitter.
The organization sent a letter to Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg on April 22, 2020, with suggestions based on its report. “[P]ublic actors’ use of these tools in many cases violates the First Amendment,” the letter stated.
The survey asked 224 public universities, using the Freedom of Information Act, for 1.) a copy of the institution’s official Facebook page settings, 2.) a copy of the list of people banned from the official Facebook page, and 3.) a list of blocked accounts from the institution’s official Twitter page. One hundred and ninety-eight universities reportedly responded with the information.
Fifty percent of those who responded allegedly used Facebook’s “strong” profanity filter, while nearly 28 percent reportedly used the “medium” profanity filter, claimed FIRE. The words that are blocked by these filters are not made available to the public. According to FIRE, three out of 10 universities created custom lists to censor certain words. Facebook pages have the ability to create words that will cause comments made on posts to be automatically removed.
Clemson University reportedly blocked mentions of the word “Harambe.” A handful of universities allegedly block the names of political candidates, such as “Trump,” “Hillary,” or “Bernie.” The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill blocked terms such as “Silent Sam” and “Nazis” to prevent discussion of the Silent Sam Confederate statue controversy.
While government entities are allowed to block certain forms of speech if they fall into certain criminal categories, the Legal Information Institute stated, “As a general matter, government may not regulate speech ‘because of its message, its ideas, its subject matter, or its content.’”
Facebook did not respond to the Media Research Center’s request for comment.