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.