Sunday, May 17, 2009

Free Speech/Censorship on Facebook

Earlier this month, Brian Cuban brought our attention to some Holocaust Denial groups on Facebook. His stance is that Facebook should remove these groups from their site, based on their own Terms of Service. Specifically, their TOS says,

"We respect other people's rights, and expect you to do the same. You will not post content or take any action on Facebook that infringes someone else's rights or otherwise violates the law."

Now, Holocaust Denial is currently a crime in 13 countries (USA not included). This in itself seems odd to me - the idea of imprisoning someone for their opinions, however crazy or controversial they might be. But, nonetheless, it exists in some places. So Cuban asserts that these groups do violate the Facebook TOS and should therefore be removed. Further, he says that these groups promote hatred of religious and ethnic groups and are attempts to recruit other like-minded individuals to join their hateful agendas. He has written numerous letters and emails to Facebook, and has just recently received some responses (previously they ignored him, but finally responded after increased media attention). Here's an excerpt from an email from Barry Schnitt, a spokesman for Facebook:

"Specifically, we are sensitive to groups that threaten violence towards people and these groups are taken down. We also remove groups that express hatred towards individuals and groups that are sponsored by recognized terrorist organizations. We do not, however, take down groups that speak out against countries, political entities, or ideas. The goal of these policies is to strike a very delicate balance between giving Facebook users the freedom to express their opinions and beliefs, even those that are controversial or that we may find repulsive, while also ensuring that individuals and groups of people do not feel threatened or endangered.

When dealing with user generated content on global websites, there are occasions where content that is illegal in one country, is not (or may even be protected) in another. For example, homosexual content is illegal in some countries, but that does not mean it should be removed from Facebook. Most companies approach this issue by preventing certain content from being shown to users in the countries where it is illegal and that is our approach as well. We have recently begun to block content by IP in countries where that content is illegal, including Nazi-related and holocaust denial content in certain European countries. The groups in question have been blocked in the appropriate countries."

That seems like a reasonable stance to me. They purport to be making efforts to remove illegal content in relevant countries, and they don't remove that same content in countries where it's not illegal. They want to provide their users with a platform to express their opinions, so long as no law exists that specifically prohibits them from doing so.

Don't get me wrong - I hate to hear of the mere existence of groups like these. My grandparents came to America to escape the atrocities they witnessed in Holland, perpetrated by the Nazis. (You can read a little more about that here). So obviously I'm emotionally drawn towards the removal of these groups, because I know they are false and likely full of hate-mongers. But, from a purely intellectual standpoint, with no regard for emotion, if Facebook removed these groups in the US, they'd be opening a huge can of worms. "Do the existence of Facebook groups that advocate beliefs that are crimes in other countries violate Facebook TOS in America?" If they answered yes, they'd have to start censoring an enormous amount of data on their website. There are tons of beliefs/actions that are crimes in other countries, but not crimes in the US. Would they censor them only from the countries where they are considered criminal? Or would they have to censor them everywhere, so that Americans now feel restricted? Even better, there are tons of groups out there that promote activities that ARE currently crimes in the US. Do they need to remove all of the groups that promote marijuana usage? (They aren't currently removing them, so I'm not sure how consistent they are in enforcing their TOS). Or do they perform no censorship whatsoever, so that we can still enjoy some of the good with the bad? I applaud Cuban for bringing this topic to our attention, and attempting to open a dialogue with Facebook. I enjoy discussions such as these. I just feel weary that any action Facebook takes will leave a sour taste in our mouths.

1 comment:

Lady-Skeptic said...

"Now, Holocaust Denial is currently a crime in 13 countries"

And so it should be more countries like the USA should make this a crime otherwise my grandfather died for no reason.