Facebook Shouldn't Censor Offensive Speech

Mark Zuckerberg made several newsworthy choices this week. One — to invoke Holocaust denial as an example of content that Facebook should keep up because “there are different things that different people get wrong” and “it’s hard to impugn [their] intent” — was ill-advised. 

But another — to keep Facebook from diving deeper into the business of censorship — was the right call. On Wednesday, Facebook announced a policy it put in place last month to remove misinformation that contributes to violence, following criticism that content published on the platform has led to attacks against minorities overseas. When pushed to go further and censor all offensive speech, Facebook refused

While many commentators are focusing legitimate criticism on Zuckerberg’s poor choice of words about Holocaust denial, others are calling for Facebook to adopt a more aggressive takedown policy. What's at stake here is the ability of one platform that serves as a forum for the speech of billions of people to use its enormous power to censor speech on the basis of its own determinations of what is true, what is hateful, and what is offensive. 

Given Facebook’s nearly unparalleled status as a forum for political speech and debate, it should not take down anything but unlawful speech, like incitement to violence. Otherwise, in attempting to apply more amorphous concepts not already defined in law, Facebook will often get it wrong. Given the enormous amount of speech uploaded every day to Facebook’s platform, attempting to filter out “bad” speech is a nearly impossible task. The use of algorithms and other artificial intelligence to try to deal with the volume is only likely to exacerbate the problem. 

If Facebook gives itself broader censorship powers, it will inevitably take down important speech and silence already marginalized voices. We’ve seen this before. Last year, when activists of color and white people posted the exact same content, Facebook moderators censored only the activists of color. When Black women posted screenshots and descriptions of racist abuse, Facebook moderators suspended their accounts or deleted their posts. And when people used Facebook as a tool to document their experiences of police violence, Facebook chose to shut down their livestreams. The ACLU’s own Facebook post about censorship of a public statue was also inappropriately censored by Facebook. 

Facebook has shown us that it does a bad job of moderating “hateful” or “offensive” posts, even when its intentions are good. Facebook will do no better at serving as the arbiter of truth versus misinformation, and we should remain wary of its power to deprioritize certain posts or to moderate content in other ways that fall short of censorship. 

There is no question that giving the government the power to separate truth from fiction and to censor speech on that basis would be dangerous. If you need confirmation, look no further than President Trump’s preposterous co-optation of the term “fake news.” A private company may not do much better, even if it’s not technically bound by the First Amendment to refrain from censorship. 

As odious as certain viewpoints are, Facebook is right to resist calls for further outright censorship. When it comes to gatekeepers of the modern-day public square, we should hope for commitment to free speech principles. 

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Without A CLU

unless offensive speech is "Cat Calling" right?

Anonymous

Try getting the DNC to say that. Democrats are on the path of adopting socialism, hate speech law & blasphemy laws like their UK & Canadian allies their so loyal to.

Anonymous

It's one thing to have and share a different opinion, it is quite another to purposely publish and share lies

Anonymous

And I is I agree 100% with no one's right to be offended under the Constitution and even if I disagree with some of the ACLU on the flip side of that coin the right to free speech regarding anything anyone finds offencive must be protected because even though I disagree with what you may be saying I must protect your right to free speech as you must protect mine because everyone can feel marginalized even if you don't agree with what they're saying so keep that in mind going forward is this really just defensive to me and it is it free speech or is this inciting violence or doing bad

Deeply Disappoi...

If you're not taking a public stand & offering legal support on the very public de-platforming attempt of Infowars then you are falling short of all the reasons I've supported you for 3 decades.

Anonymous

I don’t see any mention of Alex Jones yet.

True Patriot

It is fascinating that the ACLU doesn't have a clear and decisive position that points out the ongoing censorship by social media conglomerates of conservative voices. Alex Jones, Prager U, and shadow-banning of conservative voices. The only references in this article are to support people of color, liberal causes and the like, while at the same time demeaning our President, who has clearly supported free speech and opposed censorship. The reality is that the internet is a public forum and government regulation is needed to STOP censorship on this public asset by private companies. It is no different than a business refusing to serve "colored" customers at the lunch counter. It is disappointing, but perhaps not surprising, to see the ACLU sacrifice free speech at the altar of political correctness, betraying its weakness to defend core constitutional rights and American values.

Anonymous

Prager U hasnt been censored. Ive seen on youtube still. Though I disagree with the conservative slant it exists.

Fuck the ACLU

UNLESS ITS CONSERVATIVE IDEAS WE HAVE TO BAN PPL TAKING THE RED PILL

DIVERSITY IS OUR STRENGTH DIVERSITY IS OUR STRENGTH DIVERSITY IS OUR STRENGTH DIVERSITY IS OUR STRENGTH DIVERSITY IS OUR STRENGTH DIVERSITY IS OUR STRENGTH DIVERSITY IS OUR STRENGTH DIVERSITY IS OUR STRENGTH DIVERSITY IS OUR STRENGTH DIVERSITY IS OUR STRENGTH DIVERSITY IS OUR STRENGTH DIVERSITY IS OUR STRENGTH

Anonymous

If Facebook had existed in the early 1900's, here are the likely "obscene" things that would been censored:

1) Wonen Voting Rights supporters
2) Bikinis
3) Automobiles competing with the Horse & Buggy Industry
4) Interracial Dating

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