The Cost Of Mark Zuckerberg's Broken Censorship Promise Is Everyone Thinks They're Winning When Nobody Is

from the empty-promises dept

As you probably have heard by now, in the wake of the Charlie Hebdo attacks in Paris, Mark Zuckerberg came out with a seemingly wonderful statement on the value of free and open speech, clearly in the context of his social media empire. The language was wonderfully clear on the matter, in fact.

Yet as I reflect on yesterday’s attack and my own experience with extremism, this is what we all need to reject — a group of extremists trying to silence the voices and opinions of everyone else around the world. I won’t let that happen on Facebook. I’m committed to building a service where you can speak freely without fear of violence.

Almost before the boss of Facebook’s fingers had lifted away from the keyboard, the social media giant spun around on its digital heel and mooned all those that had been cheering on Zuckerberg’s words.

Only two weeks after Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg released a strongly worded #JeSuisCharlie statement on the importance of free speech, Facebook has agreed to censor images of the prophet Muhammad in Turkey — including the very type of image that precipitated the Charlie Hebdo attack. It’s an illustration, perhaps, of how extremely complicated and nuanced issues of online speech really are. It’s also conclusive proof of what many tech critics said of Zuckerberg’s free-speech declaration at the time: Sweeping promises are all well and good, but Facebook’s record doesn’t entirely back it up.

But the real issue isn’t really that an international company that happens to be led by an American has divorced itself from a moral stand. That kind of thing happens all the time and can be chalked up to the simple fact that, in capitalism, money is king and values are the jester entertaining the masses. And, just to be clear, I’m not arguing that there is even anything wrong with the above. The problem is the promise and what it is designed to do.

That promise was meant to accomplish two things. The first is the obvious public relations benefit Facebook received from going all Western values in public. The audience that would read Zuckerberg’s proclamation was always going to be largely in favor of the values expressed. That same audience likely largely won’t ever make themselves aware of Facebook’s kneeling before the censorious Turkish government. And that’s not a bug, it’s a feature.

What the divisions in values allow statements like Zuckerberg’s and the subsequent actions Facebook took in Turkey to do is make everyone feel like they’ve won something, while the status quo is maintained. Westerners cheer on as the gauntlet is thrown down for free speech in the arenas which will appreciate such a stand, while a Turkish government and the religious zealots that appear to live solely to show their subjects that Western values are as fleeting as a wisp of smoke claim victory as well. Everyone is in exactly the same place as they were before, except perhaps slightly more emboldened, but feels like they’re progressing their agenda.

And that’s about as dangerous as it gets in the arena of an exchange of ideas and ideals. The cure for the plague of censorious government and/or organizations, be they religious or otherwise, is for the clash of culture to happen. That will never happen so long as companies like Facebook bend to the will of the enemies of speech while also successfully placating the pro-speech populous with PR statements. That promise is what lets us pat ourselves on the back, thinking we have an ally, when that ally is really a con-man playing both sides against the middle for the most cynical of reasons: money. Please don’t let them get away with it, even if only in your own mind.

Filed Under: , , , ,

Rate this comment as insightful
Rate this comment as funny
You have rated this comment as insightful
You have rated this comment as funny
Flag this comment as abusive/trolling/spam
You have flagged this comment
The first word has already been claimed
The last word has already been claimed
Insightful Lightbulb icon Funny Laughing icon Abusive/trolling/spam Flag icon Insightful badge Lightbulb icon Funny badge Laughing icon Comments icon

Comments on “The Cost Of Mark Zuckerberg's Broken Censorship Promise Is Everyone Thinks They're Winning When Nobody Is”

Subscribe: RSS Leave a comment
Ninja (profile) says:

If anything TD (and other communities both online and with offline presence) shows that there are plenty of people that don’t buy that crap even if they won’t agree on the course of action or which God (or lack of) is the way to go. As long as there are people like that, as long as they are spreading knowledge as they can (sharing this on Facebook sounds amusingly good) we will eventually reach a higher spot in the human evolution stairs.

People will eventually get hardened to such hypocrisy and then they will be fed up and start acting. It’s never too late so let’s keep doing what we can.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

That sounds good, but people have been falling for this hypocrisy for thousands of years. Each generation appears to need to learn it all over again. So while we keep educating people, they keep dying, replaced by those who have the eternal hope that things will be better this time.

In other words, the human race is insane.

Violynne (profile) says:

This is the same guy who banked on the fact it’s “dumb fucks” would turn over mountains of information without a second thought.

There’s a reason I don’t own a Facebook account.

But more importantly: ever notice how fast websites are jumping on ensuring that little shitty “f” is plastered on their site?

Yeah, money most assuredly makes the calls.

Michael (profile) says:

Re: Re:

There’s a reason I don’t own a Facebook account.

Sorry to break the news, but you don’t really “own” much of anything anymore. It seems like everything has some kind of “we can turn it into a brick” functionality these days.

Except bricks I guess. You can own a brick – as long as it’s not part of your house and you have an HOA, then you don’t really own the brick either.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:

It’s still possible to clearly own what you own and clearly not own what you don’t — it’s just more expensive, so most people choose not to do it.

And if you want to get pedantic, you don’t own your house, as the government can come in and seize it from you whenever they want. Instead, you have a license. Stop paying property tax, and it’ll get revoked.

Bamboo Harvester (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: Private Ownership

“It’s still possible to clearly own what you own and clearly not own what you don’t “

You don’t own anything in the US. If you pay taxes on it, you’re merely renting it.

This government recognizes both both Eminent Domain (We Own EVERYTHING) and Force Majure (We’ve got more guns to TAKE what we own).

Anonymous Coward says:

i just read where Facebook has opted everyone of it’s members/clients in so that their browsing habits can be logged, even after disabling their Facebook connection. everyone has to go through an opt out process afterwards if they dont want to be part of it.
seems to me that like almost everything else associated with Zuckerberg, he’s nothing but a liar and bull shiter!! everything he does is to make money, but he is never honest about anything. shame people dont see him and his ‘social network’ for what it is, a way for various security forces to be able to scan and scoop up everything from everyone!!

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:2 Re:

I think you have it backwards. The viewpoint is considered extreme solely based on the number of followers; how else would you say it is extreme? Besides, the masses are the ones who get to declare a viewpoint extreme.

Your basis for extreme revolves around some notion of right and wrong and morals and such. These only exist based on the beliefs of society as a whole. There is no such thing as an absolute right or moral.

Or is there?

Dark Helmet (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:3 Re:

“I think you have it backwards. The viewpoint is considered extreme solely based on the number of followers; how else would you say it is extreme? Besides, the masses are the ones who get to declare a viewpoint extreme.”

This is demonstrably incorrect. What you’re talking about is what is “popular” or “populist”, not what is “extreme.” To demonstrate:

Let’s take 100 people and put them in a room and tell them that a person on the other side of a glass window has been caught jay-walking. The group can choose from a spectrum of reactions to this, from doing absolutely nothing to the man and letting him go on one end of the spectrum and to putting the man to death by stuffing his testicles into his air passages on the other end. Now, let’s say 90 people decide to kill the man by airpath testicle blockage. According to you, that reaction wouldn’t be extreme. That’s extremely silly.

“Your basis for extreme revolves around some notion of right and wrong and morals and such. These only exist based on the beliefs of society as a whole. There is no such thing as an absolute right or moral.”

You’re conflating 2 things: the existence of morality and the existence of ABSOLUTE morality. They’re not the same thing. There is a legitimate, non-societal basis for morality: that which causes general happiness and well-being for the individual and the group is moral, that which does the opposite is immoral. It’s vague to allow wiggle room for society to exist, but it’s logical, scientific, and it WORKS.

And it thinks religious extremists, no matter their number, are fucking assholes.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:4 Re:

If 90% of the people are for it, how can it be extreme? It is obviously a “moral” thing to do since the majority are for it and morals are enforced by the majority. An extreme position is measured by the numbers, or lack there of, that support it. There is no other way to measure it.

Take slavery for instance. There was a time not long ago that was considered fine. But today you would consider that an extreme position to take. So morals change over time and among societies. You consider some other societies views extreme while they consider your’s extreme. But in fact, there are no extremes. Just the strong oppressing the weak. Evolution in action.

Well, the only other way is if there are absolutes, but you aren’t saying there are absolutes, are you? You deny them but you know they exist.

Ninja (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:3 Re:

Burning people at the stake was considered business as usual in the Middle Ages and yet we see now that it’s an extreme measure for dealing with crimes and we won’t do it. The fact that it was common back then doesn’t make it less wrong. Same with slavery and so on. It doesn’t matter if all Germans agreed that putting people in gas chambers in the name of racial purity was awesome or just a small fraction of them did, it’s extremist the same way as the world would realize later.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:4 Re:

You seem to want it both ways. You say that some things were business at usual at one time and now say the world realized it was extreme. But that is one society in time judging another. How can we judge past societies unless there are morals that exist beyond time; which you don’t seem to be advocating here. The answer is we can’t unless we admit there are morals beyond time and society.

Anonymous Coward says:

Mark Z. is a underdeveloped little twit who lucked into a good thing before he had the maturity to deal with it responsibly. He has no ethics, stands for nothing except money, and continually tries to slip things under the radar. Fuck Facebook. Its operation is a reflection of the man, and Marco Z. is a dishonest weasel. Everything about him and his precious Facebook reeks of his lack of values. Of course, he lied: that’s what he does best.

Anonymous Coward says:

Censorship Or Filtering?

Dunno what happened just then with my previous comment. It somehow got submitted unintentionally. Huh? Anyway:

The difference between censorship and filtering is the identity of the person controlling what will not be seen.

If the person who is seeing is also the person who controls what will be seen (heard, etc.), then it is filtering. So, for example, customer-controlled spam filtering in an email system is perfectly acceptable.

However, censorship is when somebody else controls what will not be seen. It is the element of somebody else exercising control which is offensive. Censorship is cultural imperialism.

What has not been made clear in the story, is whether Turkish Facebook users can themselves control whether they do or do not see the images of prophet Muhammad. If each account holder has control, then it is filtering, no harm, no foul. If somebody else controls, then it is censorship, which is naughty cultural imperialism.










Add Your Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Have a Techdirt Account? Sign in now. Want one? Register here

Comment Options:

Make this the or (get credits or sign in to see balance) what's this?

What's this?

Techdirt community members with Techdirt Credits can spotlight a comment as either the "First Word" or "Last Word" on a particular comment thread. Credits can be purchased at the Techdirt Insider Shop »

Follow Techdirt

Techdirt Daily Newsletter

Techdirt Deals
Techdirt Insider Discord
The latest chatter on the Techdirt Insider Discord channel...