“I am very committed to making sure that Facebook is a platform for all ideas. That is a very important, founding principle of what we do. We’re proud of the discourse and different ideas that people can share on the service, and that is something that as long as I’m running the company, I’m going to be committed to making sure is the case.” Mark Zuckerberg.
A platform for all ideas?
The Senate judiciary committee hearings into the Cambridge Analytica scandal at Facebook was a disappointingly vague and boring 5-hour questioning of Mark Zuckerberg. The billionaire man-child regurgitated his smoothly prepared answers which felt as sincere as the, “We value your privacy,” shtick he and his company keeps pedaling. The only time when the Facebook CEO looked like he was genuinely uncomfortable with the line of questions he was receiving was when he was posed questions relating to the censorship of conservative news stories by the “20,00 people who engage in content review”.
The Republican senator, Ted Cruz, specifically took a line of questioning, that has been largely dismissed among many publications as being conspiratorial, is Facebook and other tech giants censoring politically conservative voices? Zuckerberg stated when questioned about whether the platform suffered from internal political bias and censorship is a pervasive problem in the tech industry at large, “First, I understand where that concern is coming from because Facebook and the tech industry are located in Silicon Valley, which is an extremely Left-leaning place. And this is actually a concern that I have and that I try to root out in the company is making sure that we don’t have any bias in the work that we do, and I think it is a fair concern that people would at least wonder about.” Could this be the most important statement that Zuckerberg made during his Senate hearings?
It certainly seems that the tech industry is making sure that any form of conservative or diverse (sic) opinions are removed quickly either by humans or algorithms. It’s not just Facebook who have been accused of censorship of conservative news stories, as YouTube has been demonetizing or giving community guideline strikes to channels hosted by conservative commentators, or in some cases comedy channels who target politically correct culture but remain firmly non-political. YouTube just outlined their new content review guidelines online, but, as expected, this has drawn massive criticism from users already unhappy with the bombardment of ads on the service and now their admission of automated censorship of ideas it doesn’t agree with.
“There is certain content that we do not allow. Right? Hate speech, terrorist content, nudity, anything that makes people feel unsafe in the community.” Mark Zuckerberg.
The problem with defining “hate speech” is who gets to define “hate”?
This might sound foolish as surely hate speech is easily identifiable? It’s not. It’s a very complex problem that has broader implications across all of society. We already have reasonable restrictions on speech when it comes to inciting violence or threatening people, any measure that goes beyond the legal precedent of reasonable restrictions on your speech is simply bullying and (ironically) marginalizing people who hold different views you do not agree with. The vast majority of content removal and censorship of individuals or groups deemed “inappropriate” for the community is done so because if an individual speaker or a community expresses views that make others feel “unsafe.” This is the basis for the logic that speech is violence.
The argument that speech is violence is the excuse that groups like ANTIFA use to, ironically, physically assault people who say and think things they don’t like. As Jonathan Haidt writes, “This is why the idea that speech is violence is so dangerous. It tells the members of a generation already beset by anxiety and depression that the world is a far more violent and threatening place than it is. It tells them that words, ideas, and speakers can literally kill them. Even worse: At a time of rapidly rising political polarization in the United States, it helps a small subset of that generation justify political violence.”
However, a cursory glance through the content that is “community approved” you will discover a plethora of ideas that are far from “safe” and a double standard of jaw-dropping proportions begins to emerge. When left-wing activists advocate for violence against “Nazis” and post, think pieces like “Is it ok to punch a Nazi?” in international newspapers, there is no call for censorship, no community guideline strikes, no consequences.
A look at some of the pages still permitted to exist in Facebook such as ANTIFA pages, whose members promote and engage in violence against political opponents, engage in commercial property damage and are vehemently anti-government and anti-police are still present and correct on social media. It seems that the safety concern is only extended to those who have an incorrect point of view.
If, theoretically, there was an extreme right-wing version of ANTIFA, with a chapter in every major metropolitan city with active Facebook groups for each chapter that could organize violence, protests, marches and host videos of violence against their ideological enemies, how long would it be before it was removed for violating the safety of the community? This is all present and correct on ANTIFAs official Facebook page, available for all of the community to engage with. Promoted posts on their page have wonderful headlines like, “A History of Antifascists Beating the Shit Out of Racist Boneheads“. Charming.
Embracing diversity means engaging with diverse ideas, not censoring them.
Civilized society exists because we teach people that healthy disagreement is normal, but that violence, especially against a group you dislike is just brute tribalism, regardless of how you choose to package it. The fundamental problem with the logic behind the majority of online political censorship and diversity promotion is it suggests that the value of your opinion lies in your ethnic identity and your group identity, some groups are ok, some are not.
The idea that if somebody attacks your ideas if somebody says that you have bad ideas, what they are doing is attacking you personally; they’re attacking your identity. This has become how social media platforms seem to view the debate. A healthy online community requires an emotionally and intellectually vigorous population ready to engage in open debate at all times. Protecting people from opposing or different viewpoints makes them simultaneously weaker and more dangerous. We must fight that process at every step, all of our views should be judged on their merits, not on the color, sex or sexual orientation of the speaker, and those views should never be banned because they offend someone.
This is one of the primary reasons that the push for diversity training has failed so spectacularly, as Peter Bergman excellently points out, “Diversity training doesn’t extinguish prejudice. It promotes it.” This is because when we only focus on group identity to which you claim membership removes any individualized characteristics, and this is the only measure of genuine diversity, your individuality.
The evidence is also becoming overwhelmingly large that diversity training has the opposite intended effect in the companies using it as, “A study of 829 companies over 31 years showed that diversity training had “no positive effects in the average workplace.” Millions of dollars a year were spent on the training resulting in, well, nothing. Attitudes — and the diversity of the organizations — remained the same.” The same study also concluded, “In firms where training is mandatory or emphasizes the threat of lawsuits, training has negative effects on management diversity.”
What Zucc got right? All ideas must be allowed to be engaged with, and censorship is never an acceptable solution.