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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sam

facebook censors are a bogus bunch.. last night a woman came out of nowhere raged against whire people for almost a whole page. not a peep out of the censors. tonight by accident i referred to a muslim with the word muzzie. bingo.. they suspended me for 30 days.. i questione them as to why an innocuous name was more impertant than a page full of racist garbage. crickets.

Anonymous

Exactly! Facebook's Liberal Police selectively choose who to shut down and silence! Facebook is clearly biased against Christians, Conservatives and or anyone that does not agree with their Liberal Socialist Agenda! A MASSIVE Class Action Suit needs to be taken against Facebook before this gets even worse!

Anonymous

If I walk into a seven eleven public area my right to free speech is fine. But if I'm in Facebook's stores pubic area I have no rights? My right to speak freely and print my views is being impinged . this is a violation of fcc policy and Facebook bandwidth should be terminated immediately !

@jamiahhz121 (...

Well 1. facebook is about to get their tails handed to them if the keep up the racist acts. 2. people should have their right to speak about it

Randal

Those on the Liberal Left can spew the vilest of hate and even outright threats on Facebook and Facebook does nothing! No ban, no Facebook jail absolutely nothing! But if anyone on the Right or who might be a Conservative says the slightest offense the Facebook Nazis pounce! This is a clear and biased restriction of Free Speech. Yes, Facebook is a corporation, but they are also the same as the town square and a public forum that should be under the Constitution of the United States. Facebook was built on Free Speech and now today they strip away Free Speech from 1000s of people every day! When are they going to take away your Right to Free Speech? Free Speech should be equal under the eyes of the law and in our courts!

Thomas Graham

Fluff article since the ACLU will NEVER sue Facebook or YouTube for violations of the Communications Decency Act. Because they both admit to censoring legal content based on their subjectively enforced "terms of service" they are no longer protected by section 230 and should be held liable for all of the illegal content on their site. Either you should hold them accountable or force them to stop censoring free speech (and thereby becoming a biased publisher that is liable for all content on their site). The ACLU seems complacent if not complicit.

MUSIC MAN

ON FACEBOOK YOUR FREEDOM OF SPEECH OR EXPRESSION ARE TAKEN AWAY IF YOU ARE A PRESIDENT TRUMP SUPPORTER OR AGAINST THE DEMOCRATIC'S .I HAVE BEEN PUT IN FACEBOOK JAIL 3 TIMES FOR 30 DAYS EACH TIME .WHY NO MORE FREE SPEECH ????? IS THIS STILL NOT AMERICA ?????? THANK YOU

Anonymous

I have had the same experience. November, December, and January I was banned from Facebook for something as little as saying that everybody who crosses into the U.S. illegally has committed a crime. Facebook said it was "hate" speech yet I see people on there calling women cunts, whores, sluts, twats, and bitches. I guess Facebook considers those compliments because the same people are still posting that filth. I see people lie about President Trump, call him and his family vile names and Facebook doesn't seem to care. It seems to me that somebody at Facebook is trying to silence people who disagree with them. I keep wondering if the "censors" are 13 year old boys who were given a little authority and it went to their heads. And you know they like the filthy words at that age.

Anonymous

I just had a post blocked from public view on facebook with them saying it was hate speech.
The posting was an image of a muslim woman with her face fully covered while standing in a bank.
My caption was asking the question of why are muslims being given preferential treatment in banks and government buildings, such as DMVs, when other groups, such as hindus and sikhs, are told to remove their head coverings. The point of my post was to point out a double standard and how islam was being given priority over other groups.
The posting was shared over 2700 times and was up for almost a month before facebook decided to block it.
As far as I am concerned this is an infringement on my freedom of speech.
Facebook is a publicly traded corporation and must therefore not play favorites when it comes to speech.
What is regarded as hate speech by the liberals who run facebook is regarded as freedom of speech by those like me who value my constitutional rights.
If facebook was still a private company then they would have the right to restrict what is posted, just like a private club can restrict who joins that club.
But facebook is not a private club, it is a large multi-billion dollar corporation and cannot be allowed to censor any speech that is not inciting violence.
My posting was an opinion and facebook did not like it. Pure and simple.

Anonymous

I have been censored by Facebook merely for saying that all people who enter the U.S. illegally have committed a crime. They said it was "hate" speech and didn't meet their standards. I can only surmise that their only standards are low. It is a fact that if you enter illegally you have committed a crime. I guess facts are not part of Facebook's standards.

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