- Facebook doesn’t decide elections; perhaps content on the platform shapes the opinions of their users that vote. Those users have a right to their opinion regardless.
- American business and our government have a duty to prevent foreign interference in our democratic processes.
- The larger threat to Facebook users it not privacy breaches, the larger threat is interference with free speech and censorship on the platform.
- Facebook can either be a marvelous enhancement to our free society, or a tool to limit our individual freedom of expression. If Facebook chooses to limit our legal freedoms of expression, corrective action must be taken.
The narrative from some on both the left and the right of the political divide is that through the manipulation of the Facebook platform, a super PAC, political party, a campaign, individual, or foreign government could target a specific precinct, in a specific county, in a specific swing state to alter the outcome of a presidential election. The ominous warning of pundits has many of us forgetting that human beings actually cast the votes, not Facebook algorithms.
It is the responsibility of our government and the social media platforms themselves to flush out foreign meddling in our elections and the injection of their propaganda anywhere in our society. Certainly, the United States has “interfered” or “meddled” in elections in other countries. I am fine with that double standard as long as it is acknowledged and we do everything possible to block and punish foreign interference in our elections. Furthermore, it is the responsibility of both our national and state governments to ensure there is never any hacking – foreign or domestic – of our voting or tabulating machines. The greatest failsafe is an actual paper ballot that can be hand counted should there ever be the need.
After listening to Mark Zuckerberg’s testimony before the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives, I am increasingly of the belief that Facebook is monopolistic and might have to be dealt with as such. Facebook has no clear competitors, and those that come close, Facebook owns. The problem is not only third parties having access to personal data that an individual has willingly put on Facebook, but more importantly that Facebook is policing users content. In recent testimony, Mark Zuckerberg said that his company was responsible for the content on Facebook, and that they were taking it upon themselves to make sure those connections were “positive”, and then make sure users are not spreading “misinformation.”
Taking responsibility for content, ensuring connections are positive, and the prevention of misinformation may seem like goals that can be universally agreed upon, but when you think deeper, the implications are scary. One person’s “misinformation” is another’s truth. Our founding fathers enshrined free speech into our Bill of Rights because of their personal experiences with agents of King George trying to suppress what they considered “misinformation” from the American Patriots. What is Facebook’s definition of “misinformation” and “hate speech”? Are the views of Lynnette Hardaway and Rochelle Richardson, otherwise known as Diamond and Silk, “hate speech”? Diamond and Silk operated a pro-Trump Facebook page that was taken down after Facebook determined their personas were unsafe for the Facebook community.
Senator Ben Sasse did a fantastic job addressing First Amendment concerns when he asked Mark Zuckerberg what his definition of hate speech was. Mark Zuckerberg responded that it was a hard question and that Facebook struggled with what hate speech actually was. Sen. Sasse asked “It might really be unsettling to people who have had an abortion to have and open debate about that, wouldn’t it?” Zuckerberg responded, “It might be, but I don’t think that would… [Mark Zuckerberg stammered]… fit any of the definitions of, of what we have.” Zuckerberg continued on about AI (Artificial Intelligence), what obligations we want to require companies to fulfill, and about figuring out and creating a set of principles that American companies should operate under.
The issue of privacy on social media can be fixed much more easily than the notion that Diamond and Silk are somehow dangerous, or the Orwellian notion that we have to decide on a set of principles in order to talk about pro-life issues. The problem is that after recent events and Mark Zuckerberg’s testimony, it is painfully clear Facebook views hate speech as something beyond calls to violence or the oppression of human rights through activities like human trafficking, as examples.
Over the years Facebook has acquired over 60 companies, some of them competitors or near competitors. There is little doubt that if we were to take a very narrow view and only look at online social media, Facebook has obtained the status of a monopoly. The problem isn’t that Facebook provides a free service through the mechanisms of collecting data about its users and then targeting those users with the appropriate ads, arguably enhancing their online social media experience. That’s not the problem – that’s their business model, and it is a good one. The small problem is that once upon a time they worked under the moto of “move fast and break things”, and during those years firms like Cambridge Analytica were able to “scrape” the data of millions of accounts. The big problem is that it’s up to the employees of Facebook to decide what content is appropriate and what isn’t.
It is very easy to define inappropriate content: it is illegal, or it is a call for violence or a recorded act of violence for the purposes of inspiring others. For example, ISIS execution videos, Neo-Nazi plots to commit acts of violence, recipes for making methamphetamine, and depictions of pranksters destroying property that doesn’t belong to them are examples of inappropriate content. Vigorous debate or differing political viewpoints are not a threat to anyone’s physical safety, yet some of this content has been removed. Facebook has found itself on a very lofty perch and has now admitted its responsibilities. Those responsibilities are to so much more than protecting the psychological safety of individuals or groups with delicate sensibilities. There should be no “safe space” from honest dialog and mature debate. Mark Zuckerberg suggested we figure out and create a set of principles that American companies should operate under. That’s an easy one; let’s start with the Constitution and the Bill of Rights. As a company that has the hallmarks of a monopoly, if Facebook engages in censorship on their platform of legal activity or constitutionally protected speech, that would be a case in which Facebook would need to be broken up into smaller competing social media companies where dissenting thoughts and opinions could be voiced freely.