“In making decisions about the limits of free speech,” wrote the Washington Post on Tuesday, “Facebook often fails the racial, religious, and sexual minorities [CEO Mark] Zuckerberg says he wants to protect.”
With a bit of light editing, this sentence could be enshrined in the halls of Congress itself for future generations to look upon as they reflect on the value – and fragility – of a free society.
There’s nothing, of course, in the Constitution preventing a private company like Facebook from enacting all of the censorship its Silicon heart desires. If it wants to forbid users from using racial epithets, talking positively about Donald Trump, or even chatting about the relative benefits of a screened pool enclosure, it’s their right as an American business. They aren’t the government and they aren’t publicly funded. Thus, they aren’t beholden to the First Amendment.
But Facebook is unlike anything in human history. Its size and ubiquitous user base makes it an experiment of sorts in digital society. Size-wise, few countries can compare. Because of this, when Zuckerberg takes a mind to inject his brand of politics into this online biosphere, it’s worth paying attention. Because you can bet your bottom dollar that Washington is watching.
This year, Facebook announced that it was clamping down hard on what it calls “hate speech” on its social media platform. Already having rolled out trial runs of this censorship in Germany and other European countries, Facebook decided it was time to do the same back home. But as the Washington Post noted in its story, they are already discovering that finding the dividing line between “hate speech” and merely “controversial speech” is a very difficult job.
From the Post:
The 13-year-old social network is wrestling with the hardest questions it has ever faced as the de facto arbiter of speech for the third of the world’s population that now logs on each month.
In February, amid mounting concerns over Facebook’s role in the spread of violent live videos and fake news, Zuckerberg said the platform had a responsibility to “mitigate the bad” effects of the service in a more dangerous and divisive political era. In June, he officially changed Facebook’s mission from connecting the world to community-building.
The company says it now deletes about 288,000 hate-speech posts a month.
But activists say that Facebook’s censorship standards are so unclear and biased that it is impossible to know what one can or cannot say.
The result: Minority groups say they are disproportionately censored when they use the social-media platform to call out racism or start dialogues.
Unfortunately, neither the minority groups nor Facebook are coming around to the truth, which is that censorship is the wrong path forward. No, they think the problem can be solved with more employees, better digital tools, and, essentially, more pandering to the left-wing advocacy thought bubble. They don’t want to scrap censorship; they just want the censorship to be BETTER.
And when they have it “perfected,” they’ll be able to go to the U.S. Congress and say, Hey, we can do it! We can ban speech that we don’t want to hear! Let’s make it law!
Oh, it’s coming. And the knowledge that it will backfire just as it has on Facebook is cold comfort indeed.