Mark Zuckerberg’s freedom of speech stance struck many Facebook users as being at odds with their own experiences this weekend. In the wake of the Paris attacks, Zuckerberg posted the following.
“A few years ago, an extremist in Pakistan fought to have me sentenced to death because Facebook refused to ban content about Mohammed that offended him.”
“We stood up for this because different voices — even if they’re sometimes offensive — can make the world a better and more interesting place.”
“Facebook has always been a place where people across the world share their views and ideas. We follow the laws in each country, but we never let one country or group of people dictate what people can share across the world.”
“Yet as I reflect on yesterday’s attack and my own experience with extremism, this is what we all need to reject — a group of extremists trying to silence the voices and opinions of everyone else around the world.”
“I won’t let that happen on Facebook. I’m committed to building a service where you can speak freely without fear of violence.”
“My thoughts are with the victims, their families, the people of France and the people all over the world who choose to share their views and ideas, even when that takes courage.”
However, this seemed off to those who’ve felt their speech had been blocked by Zuckerberg’s social media site. Many complain that their pages or groups have been deleted without violations of Facebook’s rules (which mainly pertain to threats, harassment, and hate speech), and it’s not unheard of for a group to descend on an opposing page with a mass of reports, leading to that page’s demise.
Thus, it’s hardly surprising that many began to share their stories that they felt defied Zuckerberg’s claim to protect freedom of speech.
This screenshot was shared, for instance. (Though, in this case, the last line could be called a threat, it’s clear that the writer is not saying he’ll kill anyone, only that from 2 million people, someone will behave in what he himself calls an unjust manner.)
Another commenter said his page was deleted for pro-Palestinian content.
“Mark Zuckerberg, ** Plz do not hide my comment **
I just find your post not accurate, maybe you do not know about my page case, Facebook closed permanently my verified facebook page (with +2 million Fans!!) because the page published just a photo of one person in Palestine fighting for his land against Israel, and renamed Israel with “Occupation” with NO violence words just his name and birth date.. Facebook marked this content as inappropriate and violating Terms and Conditions!! [sic]”
However, not only pages related to Islam or Palestine have been deleted. The Atheist Republic tells of their closed (content not visible to non-members) group being deleted, ostensibly for being “hateful, threatening, or obscene,” though they say their group didn’t fit those categories. Notably, they also point out that a group called ‘Death to Israel’ seems not to violate Zuckerberg’s ToS, and was allowed to remain despite complaints.
Christian groups have complained of having content deleted, as well.
Nor is this limited to religious views: parenting groups frequently see complaints about breastfeeding photos being deleted, as one user pointed out to Zuckerberg.
“Yeah, right but pics of breastfeeding mums is offensive and gets deleted. You might want to reflect on your so called ‘speak freely without fear’…”
Many of the posts users say have been deleted are arguably offensive — any reference to Hitler or the Holocaust, are racially insensitive, anti-gay, or express prejudiced views of one group or another, and it’s impossible to verify exactly what deleted content was once it is gone.
It’s also important to recognize that freedom of speech does not guarantee anyone a platform. In America, it is legal to say offensive things. It is legal to express racism, hate, and all types of nastiness, as long as it does not cross into threat or causing actual harm. However, Facebook — and Mark Zuckerberg — absolutely have the right to ban any of these things from their site. Freedom of speech guarantees that one is protected from government action over their words — not that anyone else is required to provide a website on which to speak, or that anyone is required to listen.
However, by describing his site as a platform for free speech, the Facebook creator invited feedback — and overwhelmingly, that feedback says that Mark Zuckerberg’s freedom of speech isn’t being equally applied.
[Photo credit: Jakob Steinschaden]