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.