Mark Zuckerberg’s Meaningless ‘Free Speech’ Defence of Facebook’s Inconsistent Moderation Policies

Kari Paul, the Guardian:

Mark Zuckerberg touted Facebook as a champion of “free expression” in a wide-sweeping speech, offering a staunch defense of the social media giant following several rocky years characterized by allegations against the platform of censorship and bias.

Speaking at Georgetown University on Thursday, the Facebook CEO invoked Frederick Douglass, Martin Luther King Jr and Black Lives Matter as a means of positioning Facebook as a champion for freedom of speech.

Zuckerberg defended the company’s decision to allow misinformation in political advertising on the platform, despite high-profile pushback against the policy.

Jillian C. York, of the Electronic Frontier Foundation, writing for Vice:

But, to free expression advocates like me, Zuckerberg’s speech feels like empty words in the absence of any concrete changes to the company’s questionable policies on speech. Just this month, the company announced controversial exceptions to its fact-checking policies and prohibition on hate speech for politicians, effectively creating a separate and higher tier for those whose words have more power to harm than those of ordinary citizens. Facebook’s VP of Global Affairs and Communications Nick Clegg — himself a former politician — stated that he didn’t believe it would be “acceptable to society at large to have a private company … become a self-appointed referee for everything that politicians say.”

In asserting a fresh stance on free expression, Zuckerberg might have, for instance, reconsidered Facebook’s long-criticized “authentic name policy” that puts users around the world at risk of harm, but which the company insists allows for greater civility, despite ample evidence to the contrary. He could have listened more closely to the women and non-binary users, as well as the artist communities of Facebook who have protested the company’s ban on “female nipples” as discriminatory and outdated (in his speech, he called pornography “harmful” but said nothing about nudity). Zuckerberg might have reconsidered the company’s ever-expanding use of AI to adjudicate hate speech, given its clearly negative impact on LGBTQ users. Or, when he was speaking pridefully about how the “Black Lives Matter” hashtag was first mentioned on Facebook, he might have also acknowledged his company’s role in silencing important speech related to the movement.

York’s piece is the article I was trying to write last night, but the right words didn’t appear in the right order. It’s a robust argument that the company does not support free speech to a meaningful degree, but it’s also not a well-moderated platform. Zuckerberg wants to be able to claim that Facebook is a champion of free speech when it’s convenient to them — for instance, when it’s making money by selling ads to liars — but doesn’t want to deal with the actual difficulties that a free-for-all platform enables — and it ends up being horrible at both.