One Of The Few Government Officials Who Actually Can 'Police Speech' Whines Ridiculously About Facebook's Oversight Board
from the not-a-good-look-brendan dept
Earlier this week I wrote about the official Facebook Oversight Board and why everyone hates it because everyone hates everything having to do with Facebook. As I noted, I don’t think it will have much of an impact one way or the other, but I do think it’s an interesting experiment in moving at least some moderation controls away from an internet company.
One of the strangest responses to the announcement, though, came from FCC Commissioner Brendan Carr, who went on a truly bizarre and misleading rant about how this was the “new speech police” in which he then called out individual members of the board to complain that some of them have (*gasp*!) criticized
Imperial Number One Leader President Trump.
Meet your new speech police!
Facebook now has an Oversight Board empowered to take down posts.
Gotta be non-partisan people, right? Nope!
— Brendan Carr (@BrendanCarrFCC) May 6, 2020
As I noted in my original post, there are a bunch of people on the board who I disagree with on a variety of policy positions, but that there would be no reasonable construction of such a board that was made up of people that everyone would universally agree with. What is true is that pretty much all of them (at least all of the ones whom I recognize or know) are people who I’ve found to be thoughtful, even when I’ve disagreed with them.
But what’s much more stunning about this, is Carr’s ridiculous framing of the board as “the new speech police.” Everything about that is wrong — and it’s extra ridiculous coming from an FCC Commissioner who remains one of the very few government officials who is literally part of the speech police. Remember, the FCC’s mandate allows it to enforce fines against broadcasters for “indecent or profane programming.”
It is a violation of federal law to air obscene programming at any time. It is also a violation of federal law to broadcast indecent or profane programming during certain hours. The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) defines indecent speech as material that, in context, depicts or describes sexual or excretory organs or activities in terms patently offensive as measured by contemporary community standards for the broadcast medium.
Congress has given the FCC the responsibility for administratively enforcing the law that governs these types of broadcasts. The FCC has authority to issue civil monetary penalties, revoke a license or deny a renewal application. The FCC vigorously enforces this law where we find violations.
That’s what the speech police look like.
The Facebook Oversight Board, on the other hand, is not that. Indeed, the whole point of the board is for a non-Facebook organization to review and potentially reverse Facebook’s decisions to take down content (while at a later date, it may also review cases where Facebook decided to leave content up, the board very clearly stated that its initial work will be the opposite — looking for cases where it thinks Facebook took down content it should not have).
Even more importantly, as discussed a million and a half times around here, Facebook is a private company, and not the government. It has its own 1st Amendment rights to moderate however it sees fit, even (as in this case) handing off some of those moderation powers to an outside board of experts. Indeed, an FCC Commissioner named (checks notes….) Brendan Carr, used to recognize this, and whined vociferously when Mark Zuckerberg suggested that perhaps the government should get involved in policing speech on the platform. At that time, he pointed out that Facebook is a private platform.
Facebook, a private company, is experimenting with a variety of means for content moderation. As we’ve long noted, content moderation at scale is impossible to do well because someone will always disagree. But part of the 1st Amendment rights of private companies is the ability to experiment and try things. That’s the kind of thing you would think someone like Brendan Carr would support. But, since it’s more fun to bash Facebook and cry “partisanship” that’s what he’s going to do.
Meanwhile, since Carr seems to think that no “speech police” should ever express any partisan opinions, and he’s the literal speech police, does that mean that Carr will refrain from partisan hackery going forward? Given his public pronouncements cheering on this administration, and this entire partisan performance in which Republicans like Carr pretend that Facebook is somehow “anti-conservative,” somehow I doubt it.