Facebook Struggles to Limit Speech


It’s so hard to know what to delete:

In the wake of a terrorist attack in London earlier this month, a US congressman wrote a Facebook post in which he called for the slaughter of “radicalized” Muslims. “Hunt them, identify them, and kill them,” declared US Rep. Clay Higgins, a Louisiana Republican. “Kill them all. For the sake of all that is good and righteous. Kill them all.”

Higgins’ plea for violent revenge went untouched by Facebook workers who scour the social network deleting offensive speech.

But a May posting on Facebook by Boston poet and Black Lives Matter activist Didi Delgado drew a different response.

“All white people are racist. Start from this reference point, or you’ve already failed,” Delgado wrote. The post was removed, and her Facebook account was disabled for seven days.

The writer of the above post seems to be a progressive. I actually respect the frustration over the unfair limiting of speech on Facebook, as it relates to the two Facebook comments. 

Can you see how the slippery slope gets more slippery every day? The real problem with this kind of thing is that once it starts, it is so hard to figure out what to delete. And already the rules look crazy:

The reason is that Facebook deletes curses, slurs, calls for violence, and several other types of attacks only when they are directed at “protected categories”—based on race, sex, gender identity, religious affiliation, national origin, ethnicity, sexual orientation, and serious disability/disease. It gives users broader latitude when they write about “subsets” of protected categories. White men are considered a group because both traits are protected, while female drivers and black children, like radicalized Muslims, are subsets, because one of their characteristics is not protected.

Calls for violence should be gone from Facebook…and are illegal in most cases. The moment someone said that we need to identify the sets and subsets of people to “protect” from slurs is exactly when the plan goes off the rails.

The fact that BLM activist Didi Delgado thinks I’m racist is not actually something I want hidden from view. Facebook would hide this from me, and that’s wrong. As far as the idea that “radicalized Muslims” should be killed, if the definition of that term includes those who join a broad movement to bring down western civilization…it’s something which must be said out loud. But again, should Facebook keep silent when a U.S. congressman suggests that as a policy, there should be wholesale killing? Is not knowing really better?

I think we should all be free to ignore, or mock, whatever silliness ends up on Facebook. The internet is one of the best tools for democratic thinking — as popular ideas are shared, ignorant ones can be ignored, and people can come to their own conclusions. The company that invented the “unfriend” button should know this.

 

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