Social media has generally been a force for good when it comes to free speech. It has allowed individuals across the word to express their opinion, support a cause or speak out against brutal regimes, as we saw with the Egyptian social media revolution against Mubarak. However, there is a darker side to Facebook, which is slowly undermining free speech.
In an effort to convey a politically correct image, Mark Zuckerberg, Facebook’s co-founder and CEO, has become censor in chief.
Recently Facebook was caught with its pants down when, after a considerable amount of pressure, it was forced to back down when found to be permitting anti-Israel postings but censoring equivalent anti-Palestinian postings. One doesn’t have to be an arch Zionist to realise that the fact Facebook decided what opinions people were allowed to see on the giant social media site was wrong. Thankfully, Zuckerberg and his cronies were exposed for turning a platform for free speech into a censor’s paradise. Sadly, there are other examples with Facebook with a much less happy ending.
Zuckerberg likes nothing better it seems than to feed his ego by meeting the great and good of the world, so he was like a kid at Christmas when meeting Angela Merkel at the UN Development Summit in New York in September 2015. At the summit Merkel was caught on microphone asking Zuckerberg what he could do to stop anti-immigration postings on the site. Rather than telling Merkel that she had no right to make him into a censor and demand that he stop people expressing their opinions, Zuckerberg decided to act like an acquiescent lapdog.
You can read about the sorry saga here.
In order to get Merkel on side, Zuckerberg decided to do his best to curtail anti-immigration postings. This is problematic when you consider that there are many across Europe who believe mass immigration may not be all it’s cracked up to be and that encouraging many Syrians to go on perilous journeys across the Mediterranean may be making a bad situation even worse. Yet in Zuckerberg’s Facebook world this could be an opinion too far and too ‘offensive’.
Now, as part of his sucking up to Merkel at the expense of free speech, Facebook has launched the Orwellian sounding Initiative for Civil Courage Online. The aim of the initiative is to remove hate speech from Facebook, especially speech seen to promote xenophobia.
It aims to achieve this – as the Conservative commentator Douglas Murray highlights in this article – by working with the publisher Bertlesmann. This initiative is a wet dream for censors who thrive on the ability to stop controversial opinions being seen, heard or viewed. It’s not enough that the freedom to offend is undermined in newspapers by libel laws, by university unions and by government policy; now those behind Facebook want to turn a free and vibrant platform for debate into a uniform, boring, politically correct safe space where superfluous posts about Justin Bieber dominate and robust political debate is not allowed to flourish.
Facebook’s Chief Operating Officer Sheryl Sandberg has justified Facebook’s actions by saying “hate speech has no place in our society – not even the internet.”
I have a series of questions in response:
- Who decides what is defined as hate speech, especially when you consider what one person finds offensive, another finds praiseworthy?
- Why shouldn’t someone be allowed to express hateful opinions as long as they are not actively causing violence?
- Why can’t she just leave it to other Facebook users to challenge hateful views?
- Isn’t Facebook meant to be about empowering individual users, not letting those in the upper echelons of Facebook decide what we can handle seeing?
- Is it not better that people release their tensions through freely expressing a view, rather than turn to violence?
Facebook should not be policing opinions by telling millions of people across Europe that they cannot express concerns about mass immigration. Whether you agree with their views or not, they are not doing anything wrong – they’re just expressing an opinion. Why is the opinion of those who support mass immigration allowed to be freely expressed, but the opposite not?
Perhaps it’s because for Facebook some opinions are more valid than others and they’ll do anything to stop opinions they disagree with being freely expressed, even if it means trampling on free speech.
Stephen Hoffman is the Parliamentary Liaison Officer for Conservatives for Liberty. He tweets at @thehoff102
The views expressed in this article are that of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Conservatives for Liberty