In an op-ed in the Washington Post, Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg called on governments to increase regulation of internet speech. It is easy to understand why Zuckerberg wants governments to tell Facebook what to do. Following regulations will insulate Facebook against liability, and the free speech controversies of recent years have been an unwelcome distraction from Facebook’s remarkably successful business model.
Zuckerberg wants government action “in four areas: harmful content, election integrity, privacy and data portability.” The first is the most important and the only one I want to address:
First, harmful content.
The First Amendment does not allow government to suppress speech on the ground that it is “harmful.” Harmfulness is not a constitutionally significant concept. I personally believe that every word that emanates from the Democratic National Committee is harmful, and the world would be better off without the DNC or its speech. But that does not give me the right to ban it, even if I happen to control Congress.
I assume Mark Zuckerberg understands this, but given the incompetence of America’ 21st Century educational system, it is impossible to be sure.
Facebook gives everyone a way to use their [sic] voice, and that creates real benefits — from sharing experiences to growing movements. As part of this, we have a responsibility to keep people safe on our services.
That is true. But is safety really a problem? Have you heard of anyone suffering an injury while using Facebook? I haven’t. Carpal tunnel syndrome, maybe, if you type too much. But that doesn’t seem to be what Zuckerberg has in mind.
That means deciding what counts as terrorist propaganda, hate speech and more.
Really? Has Facebook banned terrorist propaganda? Have the vile outpourings of Ilhan Omar, Rashida Tlaib, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and other liberals been censored? I don’t think so, even though they disseminate the terrorist propaganda that–to take just one example–Israel is an apartheid state.
As for hate speech, Zuckerberg must know that it is protected by the First Amendment, as the Supreme Court recently reaffirmed in a 9-0 decision. So he can hardly expect the U.S. government to bail him out with a ban on “hate speech,” whatever he might think that phrase means.
But, further, is Zuckerberg saying that Facebook has taken steps to suppress hate speech on its platform? The most common hate speech in today’s world is the insane venom that is constantly directed against President Trump. Has Facebook tried to prevent such hate speech from appearing on its pages? I rarely go on Facebook, but nevertheless will declare confidently that Facebook has made no such effort. Hate directed against President Trump is, if anything, de rigueur. So what is Zuckerberg talking about, and how, exactly, does he expect the federal government to tell him what speech to allow?
Lawmakers often tell me we have too much power over speech, and frankly I agree. I’ve come to believe that we shouldn’t make so many important decisions about speech on our own.
I couldn’t agree more. Facebook, Twitter et al. exert far too much control over American discourse. The problem is magnified by the fact that all major platforms are controlled by liberals who use their power to move our politics to the left.
Legally, the root of the problem is that platforms like Facebook want to be treated as publishers, who bear no responsibility for the content that appears on their site. ISPs are publishers in this legal sense. You might assert a libel on your web site, for example, but your ISP doesn’t vet your content and has no responsibility for it.
But Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, et al. want to have it both ways. Legally, they want to be mere publishers, while at the same time, to enhance the value of their platforms and to advance their own liberal agendas, they censor inappropriate content–a live-streamed suicide video, for example–and also silence conservative voices like Prager University, Diamond and Silk, Republican politicians, and many others.
If Facebook wants to take responsibility for the content that its millions (or billions?) of users post, and delete anything it considers inappropriate or offensive, I have no problem with that. If Mark Zuckerberg wants Facebook to be a left-wing social media company, hostile to conservatives and conservative ideas, he has that right. Conservatives–who outnumber liberals in America–will then find, or found, competing social media platforms. But what Zuckerberg can’t do is expect the U.S. government to violate the First Amendment by laying down guidelines that take him off the hook.