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Censorship On Social Media: How Chucopedia Protects The Oligarchy

Censorship is more than silencing dissenting voices. It is used politically to manipulate public perception to keep political power centers in power. Chucopedia is a Facebook group with almost 4,000 members. Our experience with the group provides us the opportunity to understand how censorship works and how it is used to keep political power in the hands of a specific powerbase.

In this next article in our special series, who speaks for El Paso? we will continue exploring how the community is manipulated into accepting the status quo.

In addition to the pandemic, censorship – some have labeled it “fake news” on social media – has been hotly debated for its part in the 2020 elections. Facebook and Twitter haphazardly suppressed political content as the debate intensified across America. On the surface, censorship is the process of limiting free expression, but upon closer examination it is about ensuring that members of the community are not confronted by material that challenges the status quo. Ultimately, censorship in a democracy is about keeping political power.

Often overlooked is how individuals manipulate information, sometimes unwittingly, to protect those in power. These cabals of gatekeepers, who sometimes believe they are serving the public good, nonetheless, determine what news someone is allowed to see by their own prescribed standards driven by inherent biases. They do this by their position of trust, either as news reporters, editors or individuals pretending to promote access to information so long as the outlet they control meets their opaque “standards” of what is news and what is not.

The Limits Of Freedom Of Speech

German chancellor Angela Merkel addressed extreme speech, which is now the raison d’état for limiting freedom of speech, in 2019. Merkel said that freedom of expression “has its limits” and the “limits begin where hatred is spread.” Few will argue against Merkel’s position on limiting free speech when “the dignity of other people is violated.”

But what happens when a group of individuals promote “bilingual news & culture” with “your posts [are] welcome” along with “respect for all ChucoPedians” butts up against unpopular news and information that threatens the establishment?

The Chucopedia Example Of Protecting The Oligarchy

The Chucopedia Facebook group was created on November 20, 2014. There are three administrators and one moderator who manage the content that is allowed on the group page.

Its rules, as posted on the group page (accessed on June 13, 2021), allows for posts “directly related to El Paso, Juarez (sic), and southern New Mexico.” The rules ask that posts be kept “topical and specific to the region.” The rules also specify that personal attacks and rumormongering will not be tolerated as well as self-promotion including SPAM are not allowed. The group’s rules state that the decision of the administrators and moderators is final and that “any action taken by a moderator likely already was discussed with other moderators to reach a consensus.”

They offer no known appeals process to the moderators’ decisions and as our experience has demonstrated their approval process is opaque at best.

On its own Chucopedia is not the problem. It is the example of how the community is manipulated by the information they are allowed to see. They are part of the mechanism used to censor news and information considered detrimental to the community.

The Moderators

The administrators of the Facebook group are Debbie Nathan, which we profiled on Friday, Monica Anne Krausse, a former copy editor for the El Paso Times. Michael Scanlon rounds out the list of the group’s administrators. Krausse, Nathan and Scanlon all formerly worked at the El Paso Times under Bob Moore who now runs El Paso Matters which is largely funded by Woody Hunt. Scanlon describes himself as a “critical thinker” and a “news junkie” online. He is now a freelance reporter in Las Cruces.

Maria Esquinca was recently appointed as a moderator to the group.

As can be observed, in addition to the El Paso Times connection, the three administrators are Anglo. As El Paso Politics pointed out in Deconstructing El Paso’s Identity Crisis, the community’s narrative has and continues to be largely written by the minority Anglos of the city. This begs the question, who speaks for El Paso?

Lack Of Latino Voices On Chucopedia

In July 2020, Carolyn Macias asked a question on Chucopedia. She asked if there are any Latino moderators on the page. According to the ensuing commentary about the lack of Hispanic voices, Macias was told that “if she was under the impression the page was run by Latinx, that she was given wrong information.” The discussion then turned towards whether the name of the group required it to have Latino moderators. This continued for several days.

According to a historical accounting of the group by Miguel Juárez, the group “was created by two journalists Debbie Nathan and Michael Scanlon.” They chose the name of the group using the Caló term for El Paso which is “Chuco” and then then joined it with Pedia (as in Wikipedia), according to Juárez.

Juárez goes on to explain how he helped Nathan build the site’s membership. Juárez was removed as a moderator from the group after he and Nathan “had a disagreement.” Juárez wrote that “I think I was also banned from the site, as were other Latinxs members.” When Nathan left El Paso for a time, the site was run by Scanlon and Maricela Ortega Lozano, who was a reporter in Cd. Juarez. Lozano passed away in 2017. Monica Krause, formerly a copy editor at the El Paso Times, later joined the list of moderators. When Nathan returned to El Paso, she “retook the helm of the group,” according to Juárez.

Miguel Juárez added in his July 11, 2020 article:

“Moderators in high traffic groups like ChucoPedia play a pivotal role. They act as traffic cops who approve or don’t approve the traffic (postings) on the site. Moderators help shape a page’s content and image. They also make decisions as to what posts they will allow, as well as to who they will ban from engaging with the group. I can safely state that over the years, a number of Latinx voices have been banned by ChucoPedia. Many of them would have supported Macias in her question as to why the group lacks Latinx moderators, but since they have been banned, they and their voices are not present in this group.”

The question about who writes El Paso’s narrative remains an important one. In tomorrow’s article we will delve deeper into this question using Chucopedia as the example. But we will also look at how censorship is used to keep the status quo in El Paso.

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