Should Facebook censor?

Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg is under fire for creating this thing that has been unleashed on the world. It’s not quite Frankenstein but we’re definitely still trying to understand its relationship to our constitutional rights, for one.

Let’s talk.

Should Facebook filter?

Facebook should not filter its content.

legal obligations

Facebook filters may infringe on the right to free speech, like the right of Diamond and Silk to post their conservative views (note: Zuckerberg describes this as an accident that will be corrected) but let’s also note: it’s actually okay to censor speech in a private company like Facebook.

We treat Facebook like it’s a public space but it’s not.

same thing happens on Twitter

President Trump blocks users that post opposition to his message. He can do this because Twitter is a private company (and that company has its own First Amendment rights).

political partisanship

If Facebook does not censor, the rights of message-driven campaigns like Diamond and Silk are protected. However, a complete lack of censorship creates a fake-news problem.

The problem: not all people who pass along the news are journalists, and therefore not all have professional standards that push them to produce accurate news. Therefore the “news” can be incorrect, unsubstantiated or agenda-driven—and yet appear to be news.

So, we want Facebook to make a judgment—which is good news, and which is bad news—yet this judgment seems really vulnerable to mistakes, and may never meet expectations, especially in the world of politics.

computer-generated speech

In order to be clear and consistent on censorship, we need to know: Is computer-generated speech protected by the first amendment? Is it still “speech” if an algorithm (generated by a person) came up with it?

Facebook should censor its content.

Federal Communications Commission on free speech and censorship

The FCC is not allowed to prevent the broadcast of a point of view so that “diverse and opposing opinions” can be expressed. However, there is some precedence for imposing rules, even while respecting first amendment rights. For example, the FCC has rules governing the broadcasting of intentionally distorted news, as well as rules regarding profane and obscene content, and when and where it can be broadcast.

Does that mean that it’s time for (even more) rules regarding Facebook content?

the fake news problem

Since fake news is a democracy-undermining problem, it’s probably something that we need to really grapple with. How do we allow all material to be published–like Diamond and Silk and others—and yet not allow fake news to take over news feeds?

Here’s a possible summary:

Facebook is a free and open technology platform that also edits the content its users produce. It’s like a public space, but it’s not.

For example, Facebook has developed software that enables a third party to censor posts. China is interested in using this in order to monitor its citizens while providing access to Facebook.

Let’s simplify:

The platform gives the illusion of openness while also censoring its content.

Is the world more open and connected through Facebook? Or is it just selectively free and somewhat connected?


Back to the News Made Simple article here.

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