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.

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.

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Comments on “One Of The Few Government Officials Who Actually Can 'Police Speech' Whines Ridiculously About Facebook's Oversight Board”

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35 Comments
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Koby (profile) says:

More like he thinks that the only opinions allowed are those that praise his party and its leader, especially while it is in power..

So far, I haven’t heard of Brendan Carr or any other Republicans censoring leftists. I’m sure that if Republicans were ever to do that, especially those in government, it would have made front page news. But as for Republican free speech being censored by leftists, well, that’s a common occurrence.

This comment has been deemed insightful by the community.
Stephen T. Stone (profile) says:

Re:

Please point out instances of the government censoring speech associated with Republicans/conservatives/right-wingers at the behest of Democrats/liberals/left-wingers.

Reminder: Moderation is a platform operator saying “we don’t do that here”. Discretion is you saying “I won’t do that there”. Censorship is someone saying “you can’t do that anywhere” before or after threats of either violence or government intervention.

Koby (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:

Please point out instances of the government censoring speech associated with Republicans/conservatives/right-wingers at the behest of Democrats/liberals/left-wingers

https://www.npr.org/2017/10/27/560308997/irs-apologizes-for-aggressive-scrutiny-of-conservative-groups

The IRS targeting scandal comes to mind immediately. But I think you’re missing the point: you are attempting to limit your definition of censorship to government officials, while turning a blind eye towards schools, colleges, news media, and internet companies. In actuality, political censorship in public forums is still censorship, and is wrong.

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Stephen T. Stone (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:

The IRS targeting scandal comes to mind immediately.

Oh look, you did the thing and did it correctly. Congratulations! ????

you are attempting to limit your definition of censorship to government officials, while turning a blind eye towards schools, colleges, news media, and internet companies.

Except I’m not. Any public school or university falls under the control of the government; as such, anything they do to suppress speech counts as censorship. Unless you can show me a news media outlet or an Internet company (i.e., an interactive web service) owned by the government that suppresses speech based only on the political leanings of the speaker, neither news media outlets or Internet companies can censor anyone. Someone who eats a ban for using racial slurs on Twitter can say those same slurs anywhere else on the Internet. They have no legal right to post on Twitter, no matter what they might (wrongly) think the First Amendment says about that.

Koby (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:2 Re:

neither news media outlets or Internet companies can censor anyone.

You have made my point for me. I said that you would turn a blind eye to certain organizations for engaging in censorship, and now you have done so. You can attempt to explain that certain censorship activities are JUSTIFIED, but make no mistake, they most certainly can and DO engage in political censorship.

This comment has been deemed insightful by the community.
Stephen T. Stone (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:3

Assume I buy into the idea that Twitter bans/suspends people for political speech that goes against whatever Twitter deems “acceptable”.

So what?

You can’t say “Twitter can’t ban people for their politics” without saying “no interactive Web service can ban people for their politics”. Or do you want to go on the record as saying that any interactive Web service, no matter its size, must remain “neutral” towards White supremacist propaganda or support for anti-queer “conversion ‘therapy’ ” because those things represent (loathsome) political beliefs?

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:3 Re:

Well, why don’t you conservative folks just leave Twitter and go somewhere else? Maybe make your own platform and ban liberals? Wouldn’t that be making the point?

Let’s face it – you want an audience, you feel entitled to an audience, and only talking to other conservative-leaning morons is just boring, isn’t it?

This comment has been deemed insightful by the community.
Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re: Re:

"The IRS targeting scandal comes to mind immediately."
You mean that gop congressional investigation into irs policy and procedure? The one that ultimately found no evidence of the claims made? That one?
iirc, the only group denied special tax status was a liberal group.

Scary Devil Monastery (profile) says:

Re: Re:

"…or any other Republicans censoring leftists."

So Trump isn’t using government power when he decides to ban any journalists asking hard questions from partaking in White House Press briefings?

"But as for Republican free speech being censored by leftists, well, that’s a common occurrence."

Unless you are actually proposing that white supremacy, misogynism, and hate speech are the values of "Republican free speech" then that is not a hill you want to die on.

Then again, I wouldn’t be too surprised to hear the GOP officially recognizing the values of the Very Fine People given that they keep trying to play the "victim" cards they borrow from members of those Very Fine People who got banned from twitter for talking too much about the proper place to keep your woman and n____rs.

No republican was ever banned from Twitter or FB for bringing a positive message. This I’m fairly sure of.

But hey, if you truly want to have the back of your local KKK rep and call him your brother then who am I to argue? What you want the word "republican" to mean is, after all, entirely up to you.

Thad (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: election year

Not directly perhaps, but as they are appointed by the president who’s in that spot can determine which party is in charge of the agency

Yes.

That’s called an appointed position. As opposed to an elected one.

so PR stunts like this still impacts the FCC commissioners.

If you’ve got any evidence that anyone has ever decided who to vote for for president based on what an FCC commissioner has said, feel free to share with the class.

Election year has nothing to do with it. This is the same "Facebook has been censoring conservatives!" narrative that conservative outlets were pushing last year, and the year before, and the year before.

That One Guy (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:2 election year

That’s called an appointed position. As opposed to an elected one.

That was what I said, yes.

If you’ve got any evidence that anyone has ever decided who to vote for for president based on what an FCC commissioner has said, feel free to share with the class.

I might bother with the effort to do so if that had any relation to my comment or point. As it doesn’t I don’t really feel the need to though.

Election year has nothing to do with it. This is the same "Facebook has been censoring conservatives!" narrative that conservative outlets were pushing last year, and the year before, and the year before.

… Aimed at furthering the conservative persecution complex/narrative, increasing the odds that conservatives, who are constantly told how oppressed they are, head out and vote so as to ‘protect’ themselves.

People like that aren’t almost certainly aren’t complaining about how oppressed they are simply to blow off steam, they’re doing it for a reason, whether that be playing up to the gullible for money or motivating people to give them power via politics.

Thad (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:3 election year

That was what I said, yes.

Well, no, I said "FCC commissioners aren’t elected," and you said "Not directly, perhaps", as if they’re elected in some other, indirect way.

They’re not elected. They’re appointed. If you want to imply that an an appointment is an "indirect election", I guess you can, but that just seems like silly obfuscation to me.

People like that aren’t almost certainly aren’t complaining about how oppressed they are simply to blow off steam, they’re doing it for a reason, whether that be playing up to the gullible for money or motivating people to give them power via politics.

Yes, and they do that irrespective of whether there’s an election this year, and indeed irrespective of whether they even hold political office. Sean Hannity does it five days a week.

There are many instances where it’s reasonable to point to someone’s behavior and say "they’re doing this because it’s an election year" — hell, I did that very thing yesterday, speaking about Devin Nunes’s various lawsuits.

But saying that a conservative is pushing a particular narrative because it’s an election year when (1) that conservative is not up for reelection and (2) conservatives push this narrative all the time, election year or not, is pretty clearly a case of isolating the wrong variable.

That One Guy (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:4 election year

They’re not elected. They’re appointed. If you want to imply that an an appointment is an "indirect election", I guess you can, but that just seems like silly obfuscation to me.

Different way of looking at it I guess. If you can’t choose who gets a position directly by picking who best matches your position, but you can choose who gets to decide who gets that position you are still to an extent influencing who gets that position, as it’s to be expected that if you agree with the one making the appointment odds are good that they’re going to pick people you also agree with.

But saying that a conservative is pushing a particular narrative because it’s an election year when (1) that conservative is not up for reelection and (2) conservatives push this narrative all the time, election year or not, is pretty clearly a case of isolating the wrong variable.

A fair argument, doing so might be narrowing the scope a bit too much.

This comment has been deemed insightful by the community.
That One Guy (profile) says:

'Hey, only OUR side can tell you what you can say!'

Nothing like someone who actually is a member of the speech police whining about how a private company is moderating their platform according to their own rules.

Strange though, I was under the impression that the republican party were big on keeping the government out of business and letting the free market handle any problems, including allowing businesses to determine who they want serve or not…

restless94110 (profile) says:

Oversight

The very idea of an Oversight Board is un-American as it violates free speech. The idea of stacking the "oversight board" with "woke" social justice workers just adds insult to injury.

Facebook and all other social media should be nationalized and then categorized as public utilities. You don’t have an "oversight board" at the phone company when you get phone line to your house. The same principle applies to social media which literally IS the Common Square in 2020.

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Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Oversight

Freedom of speech does not promise what you think it does. It only promises that the government will not stop you publishing your speech at your own expense. It does not say someone else must accept it for publication,or that people must be forced to listen to you.

This comment has been deemed insightful by the community.
Stephen T. Stone (profile) says:

Re:

The very idea of an Oversight Board is un-American as it violates free speech.

Will you call for the disbanding of the FCC, then?

The idea of stacking the "oversight board" with "woke" social justice workers just adds insult to injury.

Please provide proof that Facebook “stacked” its oversight board with “ ‘woke’ social justice workers”.

Facebook and all other social media should be nationalized and then categorized as public utilities.

Under this proposition, the government could do nothing to prevent White supremacists, anti-queer activists, and other such vile people from spreading their rhetoric on social media. Once a platform for speech becomes a public utility, the government can’t place any legal restrictions on any speech posted to those utilities save for the restrictions already in place (e.g., true threats, defamation).

You don’t have an "oversight board" at the phone company when you get phone line to your house.

You don’t have a potential audience of millions when you make a phone call, either, but why let facts get in the way of a good emotional argument~.

The same principle applies to social media which literally IS the Common Square in 2020.

Say that I accept the idea of social media as the Common Square of [current year]. How does accepting said idea change the fact that Twitter and Facebook are privately owned services? Under what pretense should the government seize, then nationalize, those services? How would you justify a similar seizure of the smallest of “all other social media services” (e.g., Mastodon instances) under that pretense? And what would you say to the marginalized communities that would bear the brunt of bad behavior from bigots whose heinous (yet completely legal) speech could target those communities without even the slight consequences that social media platforms have in place now?

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Oversight

"Facebook and all other social media should be nationalized and then categorized as public utilities. "
. This is a horrible idea and to what end?

"You don’t have an "oversight board" at the phone company when you get phone line to your house. The same principle applies to social media which literally IS the Common Square in 2020."
. The phone system is title II, the Internet is not. Social media is not the town square.

What would your nationalized town square look like and who would be providing its oversight board with social justice warriors?

Scary Devil Monastery (profile) says:

Re: Oversight

It’s rare I find quite so clear-cut an example of cognitive dissonance;

"The very idea of an Oversight Board is un-American as it violates free speech."
"Facebook and all other social media should be nationalized and then categorized as public utilities."

Forget "Un-american" – you just advocated the reimplementation of the old East German Public Commissariat for cultural purity. Online US Version.

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