Facebook and Hate Speech (And Breasts)

Is Facebook changing its tune on Holocaust Deniers?

HOWARD MEGDAL: Facebook has every right to limit speech on their site. But that doesn’t mean they should, even if it is so-called hate speech. And believe me: I’m no fan of Holocaust-deniers.

But if Facebook is trying to market itself as a quasi-public institution- and really, any social media tool’s goal is to become ubiquitous- and the primary function of Facebook is to communicate one’s ideas to others- than the moment Facebook becomes a place that people do not feel allows them to communicate, they’ll be on to the next venue.

If you don’t believe me, ask Friendster.

Moreover, once the decision is made to erase groups based on taste, rather than simply law, it can become a slippery slope for Facebook. How slippery? Well, just this week, an ad promoting the legalization of marijuana got banned.

I happen to think the light of day is the best medicine for such disgusting ideas. Let them fight it out alongside people who can present evidence making them look foolish. After all, these people aren’t making headway in the real world, and they have rights here they don’t have on Facebook.

And my concern is always over the changing weather in society, and what is acceptable one day can be easily banned the next. Again, Facebook has the right to do it. But it isn’t the pathway to replicating the public square online.

MOLLY SCHOEMANN: Don’t get me wrong, I support freedom of speech.  It is a fundamental right in this country (with a few restrictions).   No matter how hate-filled and vitriolic your tirades might be, as a US Citizen you have every right to have them.  But as a member of Facebook, which is actually a business and not in fact its own online country, your right to say whatever you want is not a given—in fact, it can be taken away at any time if Facebook’s owners decide that they don’t like what you’re saying.

The right to kick customers out if they don’t like what you’re saying or doing is wielded liberally by restaurant and nightclub owners everywhere; it is also the right of librarians, even though libraries are public.  Thus, I don’t really have a problem with Facebook’s administrators taking measures to censor or disallow certain types of content, as long as they are fairly consistent with regard to removing content that is fairly universally offensive.  The problem is, they aren’t.  In fact, Facebook groups which deny the Holocaust, which are arguably the social networking equivalent of the ranting, urine-soaked derelict wandering through back bookshelves of the Young Adult section of the library, are allowed to stay, while ads which promote the legalization of marijuana, and sites which mock Facebook, are gruffly asked to leave.

Not only that, the flubs keep piling up. Facebook was blasted this summer for preventing users from having the words “Arab” or “Palestinian” in their profiles; scandalized administrators also recently censored a picture which showed a ceramic doll’s nipples.  Facebook, if you are going to wander into the wilderness of deciding which kinds of content to censor, perhaps you should have brought a sharper tool, or a better guide. And if your refusal to censor certain types of almost universally reviled hate speech brings a sh*tstorm of controversy, maybe you can acknowledge that you made a bad call there, and take them down. Your judgment is clearly not infallible.

MATTHEW DAVID BROZIK: A private entity (including even a publicly-traded company) can make its own rules/allowances/proscriptions, as long as those do not violate the legally protected rights of persons. But freedom of speech is not something that has no limits. Recall that one does not have the right to yell “Fire!” in a crowded playhouse (or, for that matter, “Play!” in a crowded firehouse). I don’t have to let a visitor to my house deny the Holocaust. Facebook doesn’t have to let subscribers say anything they want.

Rather than hate speech, however, I’d like to talk about breasts. Remember when Facebook was removing photos of breastfeeding mothers? When that controversy was in full swing, whenever that was, my main thought was, “Why do women want to post photos of themselves nursing?” I mean, specifically those photos. Does a new mother look her best when nursing? Not generally, but at that very moment? I suspect that nine of every ten women who posted a photo of herself nursing to Facebook did so because she was told that she couldn’t/shouldn’t.

Doing something, in public or otherwise, and posting photos of yourself doing it… or, rather, feeling it necessary to post photos of it, are very different things. (Also, who is taking all these photos of breastfeeding women in flagrante? It’s not like you get a good shot of the kid or the mother.) Women are allowed to breastfeed in public. In fact, in New York at least, women are allowed to be topless wherever men are. (My friends and I made beach frisbee a spectator sport one teenaged summer.) But what’s the necessity of posting photos of nursing? It seemed, and still seems, to me like an issue that became an issue only because FB was foolish enough to have an opinion about it. Likely, three photos then turned into hundreds.

Evidently, even discussing breasts gets me angry.

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