This is weird. I’m going to be sympathizing with multi-billionaire and Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg.
Facebook has been criticized for years for not controlling “hate speech,” culminating in a recent call by a couple of snowflake city supervisors that his name be removed from what had been San Francisco General Hospital. Zuckerberg got his name on it after donating $75 million to the facility.
Proving again that no good deed should go unpunished.
Zuckerberg hasn’t done enough, say the supervisors whose city is declining into Calcutta.
First, a word about Facebook and its responsibility.
Now, 16 years old, the global social meeting and berating website has 2 billion subscribers, reaching almost 30% of the inhabitants of Planet Earth.
Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act protects internet platforms like Facebook and Google from liability for statements and content its users generate.
This legal protection—not accorded to news organizations — created the internet as we know it. Protection from liability for any false or injurious statement their users post enabled the incredibly freewheeling, and sometimes poisonous, commentary delivered by the internet.
I don’t want to get too deep in the weeds here, but the company has long been criticized for failing to protect the privacy of users and a lack of transparency about its rules and algorithms. The complaints — and demands for change — are escalating.
As far back as December, 2016, Facebook announced a set of news feed updates to combat the problem of fake news and hoaxes. These included more streamlining for users reporting fake news, a partnership with signatory organizations to Poynter’s International Fact Checking Code of Principles to examine items reported as fake, and warnings to users when they share news that is disputed or possibly fake.
No one wants fictitious accounts on FB, or, worse, accounts run by foreign intelligence services.
That’s easy to stop.
Less easy is to ban “hate,” because how do you define “hate”?
Is calling President Donald J. Trump a “racist” and a “Nazi” hate speech?
Claiming that Hillary Clinton murdered Vince Foster. Is that hate? Or just a lie? Should lies be scrubbed? Or tagged?
The company has some 20,000 people on its safety and security staff who oversee a gazillion posts each day. It is not possible to monitor everything.
This month, under a July boycott by major advertisers, Zuckerberg launched a new anti-hate policy. (Informed observers believe the boycott is only for a month because Facebook is too valuable an advertising platform to permanently lose.)
Facebook will ban ads that claim people from a specific race, ethnicity, nationality, caste, gender, sexual orientation or immigration origin are a threat to the physical safety or health of anyone else, Zuckerberg said.
OK, that’s ads, but what about comments?
Facebook can be infuriatingly mysterious.
A couple of years ago I spent 24 hours in Facebook jail because I had posted a picture of Philadelphia’s supposedly Naked Bike Ride in which naughty bits could be detected only by using a magnifying glass. There were complaints (or maybe a complaint) I was told by “Facebook,” rather than a named person, and I had violated “community standards.”
Being as the clowns on bicycles, few of whom were actually naked, had a police escort, whose “community” was being violated? Facebook’s?
Earlier this year I was kicked off for a while for a meme with a punchline of tigers fornicating. I was reinstated quickly, but the image remained blocked.
So now “hate.”
If someone wrote a paean to how much he liked Aunt Jemima’s pancakes with Mrs. Butterworth’s syrup, and a side of Uncle Ben’s rice, would that be hate speech?
If you believe in free speech, really believe, you have to accept unpleasant, vile, nasty and even hateful speech.
The theory is that bad speech gets answered by good speech. Lies are fought by truth. The answer is light, not censorship.
The alternative to allowing Facebook to police itself is for the government to do it, which invites state control, which is worse than nerd control with Zuckerberg.
The Founding Fathers built a wall between the press and the government. I believe in the wall, and letting the market sort things out. If Facebook fails its audience, it will fail itself as a business.
[Note: Expected to testify at a Wednesday House Judiciary Committee panel are Zuckerberg, along with Amazon’s Jeff Bezos, Google’s Sundar Pichai, and Apple’s Tim Cook.]