The Facebook purge, revisited

When Facebook justified its ban of “far right” figures with the statement that the network has “always banned individuals or organizations that promote or engage in violence and hate,” it did two things that are morally wrong.

First, it conflated violence and “hate.” Speech is not violence, has never been violence and will never be violence. “Hate” is a subjective term, far too often used by both Left and Right to mean “something I disagree with.” By doing this, Facebook downplays the seriousness of real violence against real people.

Second, Facebook cannot simply say nasty things about people without providing evidence. Paul Joseph Watson, at least, has some grounds to argue that Facebook defamed him with their public statements about “violence.” Will Watson file a defamation lawsuit? It would be a very difficult case to win, since his is a public figure, but in my layperson opinion he has a case to make. Even if Watson does not legally have grounds to win a defamation lawsuit, it is grossly immoral for Facebook to claim he did something he did not do.

At least Twitter’s ban of Milo Yiannopoulos was based on something that did happen – a campaign of racist harassment against a black actress. With that said, Twitter never conclusively demonstrated that Yiannopoulos actively encouraged people to mob and harass the actress, much less send racist hate tweets her way and compare her to a gorilla. Twitter could have simply said “we do not like this guy and do not want him here any more” – a perfectly reasonable position, since Yiannopoulos is an obnoxious person. The dishonesty only served to undermine Twitter’s credibility.

What exactly are the rules for posting on Facebook? What are we allowed to say and not say? Some guidelines are pretty clear – harassment of individual people and pornographic content are not allowed. But the fact that Facebook has more than 1400 pages of “rules” that change constantly demonstrates how it is impossible to know what is and is not allowed on any given day. Facebook petulantly refuses to share its rules, and this lack of transparency makes it impossible for users to know what those rules are. If Facebook is truly interested in having users follow its guidelines instead of the whims of the CEO on any given day, why not publish all of those rules?

Furthermore, people can be banned from Facebook for what they say outside of the network? That is absurd. What if Bubba is chatting with someone in Starbucks and someone who works as a Facebook moderator happens to hear something he does not like? Will Bubba’s account be deleted, even if he never posted anything controversial, much less in violation of Facebook’s terms of service? As I said last week, Facebook is acting like a publisher, not a platform. If that is how Facebook wants to be, fine, but then Facebook will be liable for all content on the site. That legal liability will destroy the company.

We do not need more regulation. We should use existing law to make Facebook choose what it wants to be.

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