Rohingya Ethnic Cleansing (Once Again) Demonstrates Why Demanding Platforms Censor Bad Speech Creates Problems

from the happens-again-and-again dept

We keep pointing to examples like this, but the examples are getting starker and more depressing. Lots of people keep arguing that internet platforms (mainly Facebook) need to be more aggressive in taking down “bad” speech — often generalized under the term “hate speech.” But, as we’ve pointed out, that puts tremendous power into the hands of those who determine what is “hate speech.” And, while the calls for censorship often come from minority communities, it should be noted that those in power have a habit of claiming criticism of the powerful is “hate speech.” Witness the news from Burma that Rohingya activists have been trying to document ethnic cleansing, only to find Facebook deleting all their posts. When questioned about this, Facebook (after a few days) claimed that the issue was that these posts were coming from a group it had designated a “dangerous organization.”

So, is it a dangerous organization or a group of activists fighting against ethnic cleansing? Like many of these things, it depends on which side you stand on. As the saying goes, one person’s terrorist is another’s freedom fighter. And this just highlights the tricky position that Facebook has taken on — often at the urging of people who demand that it block certain content. Facebook shouldn’t be the ones determining who’s a terrorist v. who’s a freedom fighter and when we keep asking the site to be that final arbiter, we’re only inviting trouble.

The real issue is how we’ve built up these silos of centralized repositories of information — rather than actually taking advantage of the distributed web. In the early days of the web, everyone controlled their own web presence, for the most part. You created your own site and posted your own content. Yes, there were still middlemen and intermediaries, but there were lots of options. But centralizing all such content onto one giant platform and then demanding that platform regulate the content — these kinds of problems are going to happen again and again and again.

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Comments on “Rohingya Ethnic Cleansing (Once Again) Demonstrates Why Demanding Platforms Censor Bad Speech Creates Problems”

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Anonymous Anonymous Coward (profile) says:

Definitions Matter

It seems ‘dangerous’ is as loosely defined as ‘extreme’ and ‘unlimited’.

Did Facebook find that these groups were dangerous to them, or the impaneled hierarchy? If the hierarchy, then what did they say to Facebook to explain the danger? Did Facebook accept, we feel threatened as an excuse?

Cowardly Lion says:

Re: Definitions Matter

I’m quite sure that Facebook (like most other internet giants such as Google) have to balance a fine line between being open and unrestrictive, and not pissing off the leaders of the so-called civilized world. It would just take a small handful of leaders against them to reach a tipping point, and Facebook would be dead in the water.

They have to comply to survive… to a point.

I’m more concerned with the point raised in the piece: Facebook shouldn’t be the ones determining who’s a terrorist v. who’s a freedom fighter – a point I agree with wholeheartedly but am not able to answer the question it raises; If not Facebook, then who?

IshuG (profile) says:

Re: Re: Definitions Matter

If we hypothetically try to answer this question then: I think it’s us and the platforms like facebook should be absolved of all implications of their content. as they are not supposed to be regulators of information or thought rather just like billboards to broadcast them.

But actually fb/etc. are not free as you rightly said. they have to please a lot of masters to be so big as they are. they are not like wikileaks otherwise they would too end up in the dustbin. it’s a sad world i think.

Ninja (profile) says:

Hard to blame Facebook alone for it. Central platforms can’t possibly know and deal with every different country, minority, issue out there even if they are Facebook big and wealthy much like we can’t be experts at multiple activities (ie: if you devote your time to be the best swimmer out there you can’t possibly do the same with research at the same time, to excel at something you must focus).

I’m not entirely sure a platform that won’t allow removal of content unless very high and collective bars are reached because minorities may actually be minorities in numbers instead of simple rights and respect issues like black people and the majority can still drown those. I believe we’ll need a mix of a good system paired with better education and more tolerance. So we won’t see a solution anytime soon.

Anonymous Coward says:

The real issue is how we’ve built up these silos of centralized repositories of information — rather than actually taking advantage of the distributed web.

The problem with the distributed web is that while the like of email and Newsnet work, individuals are not capable of dealing with the immense amount of traffic that can hit a single server. Also, those services have a slower pace of interaction.

The services like Facebook, YouTube, twitter etc, can much more efficiently service large volume of traffic, while offering near real time interactions between users.

Mason Wheeler (profile) says:

As the saying goes, one person’s terrorist is another’s freedom fighter.

I’m sorry, but no. That’s a very disgusting saying, a stark example of false equivalence if there ever was one.

A freedom fighter fights for freedom against an oppressive regime. Those last four words are important.

A terrorist doesn’t fight against the regime; a terrorist attacks civilian targets in the hopes of instilling terror among the populace.

You want to know the difference between a terrorist and a freedom fighter? That’s a bright-line difference right there. When they cross the line and begin attacking civilians, they’re terrorists.

TKnarr (profile) says:

Re: Re:

Except that in the eyes of the oppressive regime, the person fighting for freedom against them is a terrorist, and once they’ve decided that it’s easy for them to portray said "terrorist" as attacking civilians and attempting to instill terror. We’ve seem police in the US doing it on a regular basis to justify their violent treatment of any gathering of people they don’t like. We witnessed Trump trying to do it with Charlottesville. It isn’t a matter of whether it’s a bright line or not but of where exactly that line is painted, and in cases like this that often depends heavily on which side is pointing at it.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

“I’m sorry, but no. That’s a very disgusting saying, a stark example of false equivalence if there ever was one.”

Don’t over analyze it. Like Newton’s 3rd law, when philosophy is involved… for every saying, there is an equal an opposite saying.

If someone defends their life against a government that is threatening it, there will be some that call them a terrorist while there will be others calling them liberators.

Richard (profile) says:

Re: Re: Ethnic cleansing

Not exactly – for it to be genocide the major mechanism should be killing – if the major mechanism is expelling then ethnic cleansing is an appropriate term.

However everyone should be clear that the obective of the Rohinga militant groups who triggered all this is the expulsion of Buddhists, Hindus etc from Rakhine province and the establishment of an islamic state there (or incorporation into Bangladesh).

So either way it is a battle for survival.

Anonymous Coward says:

I don’t like the fact we’ve tied everything to Facebook which is the real problem with their system blocking groups that are false flagged as terrorists and what not. Because really, if we were being realistic about this situation we’d never would have adopted any social network that isn’t an open source protocol as the backbone for communication or sharing of news as we’ve done with Facebook (and by some extent with Google). Rather, we’d have a natural federation of providers which users could pick and choose where to get their information from and which would be passive like RSS/Atom is in this regard. Instead, it seems everyone thinks the Web can do all the things, the truth is the Web can hardly serve static pages. I really wish the writers of this blog would recognize this truth and call for a movement away from single sites/services and toward open sourced and decentralized platforms which we can all self-host with some reliability. I hate to say it but it’s time to back to the 90s way of sharing and posting content rather than expecting capitalists to not follow the demands of their shareholders to make as much profit as possible (which includes not ticking off governments).

Anonymous Coward says:

the ‘5 Eyes’ countries plus multiple countries in the EU and elsewhere are all following the same path, the one that allows governments to be run by the rich and famous, to be run in such a way that whatever the rich and famous do is silenced and kept from the media, while even the slightest thing that an ordinary person is accused of doing is splashed all over every newspaper, everywhere, is broadcast on every news channel in every country making the planet the home of a single section of society, the section that dictates everything to everyone except their ‘own kind’! and even the security forces are following blindly, even the judiciary are following blindly and so is almost every politician! the way the planet has been conquered without a bullet being fired would have made Hitler proud!! what it’s doing to us is deplorable but has been plotted for decades and has only been made possible through the financial crisis and the subsequent events, none of which were accidental and none of which were anything to do with any ordinary person! basically, the world is becoming enslaved, as has been tried many times before but this time it looks like it will succeed and the dozen or so that always wanted to be in charge up front, instead of from the shadows are getting exactly that! i wonder what the outcome will be when everyone else wakes up to what’s going on??

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