By Zuri Davis | Watchdog.org
Facebook prides itself on giving the world the ability to share and express areas of interest. What constitutes as “acceptable” expression in the open world, however, treads uncertain terrain.
Of course, while Facebook is a private company and should have the right to create and implement “Community Standards” as it sees fit, it’s unfortunate to see them not enforced consistently, or in a way that promotes fair dialogue.
One of the most talked-about clarifications is Facebook’s classification of hate speech. According to the rules, hate speech is defined as direct attacks based on one’s race, ethnicity, national origin, religion, sexual orientation, gender, and/or disability, all labelled as protected groups. Facebook goes the extra mile to mention that the challenge of ideas and social commentary are allowed on the site.
The controversy begins, however, when one reads the regulations under “Attacks on Public Figures.” Guidelines state that while critical discussion is permitted, “credible threats to public figures, as well as hate speech directed at [public figures]” are not.
Enter 12-year-old CJ Pearson. An activist from Georgia as well as the executive director of Young Georgians in Government, Pearson maintains both a public Facebook page and a private account.
Pearson recently posted a viral video challenging one of President Obama’s policies. Shortly after, Facebook removed Pearson’s private account.
According to the site, Pearson’s private account was suspended because of “suspicious activity.” Pearson has attempted to clarify why this has occurred, but Facebook has left his requests unanswered.
Some suggest that Pearson’s age may have caused the reaction from Facebook, as the fact that he is a 12-year-old user violates their terms. However, Pearson has been in the news since the launch of his organization in late 2014, around the same time as the launch of his public profile on Facebook. Pearson has been an active and outspoken user for some months, causing speculations about the strange timing of the decision.
Unfortunately for Facebook, political beliefs are not classified as a “protected group” by its own definition of hate speech, nor is it mentioned as any cause for content removal. In fact, the site claims to encourage these sorts of discussions and conversations.
Pearson’s case is only one of several that have caused people to call Facebook’s policy into question. From conservatives to liberals to those in between who are being told that Facebook is not a platform for political views, many are concerned with Facebook’s crackdown on content submission.
Facebook’s “Community Standards” are very vague, and they appear to be enforced subjectively. Though Facebook is attempting to promote a positive social environment, the fact of the matter is that if it truly wants to promote the freedom of expression, it should stop attempting to input such strict controls.
We realize that Facebook is a private company and can enforce its “Community Standards” as it sees fit. But given the fact that it is such a large social media platform and has the supposed goal of enabling dialogue among users, it would make sense to allow users to express a diverse array of political views.
In fact, Facebook is one of main ways Generation Opportunity reaches young Americans on a variety of topics, some political and some not. Frankly, without the ability to express these views, young people would have much less to talk about through this platform.
Implementing unreasonable and poorly enforced does not promote diversity of views; it takes that away. People should be exposed to different types of content in order to form opinions for themselves. Removing views that are deemed unacceptable stifles creative thinking, not to mention the fact that what the public deems appropriate evolves with time.
As Salman Rushdie, author of Midnight’s Children, says:
What is freedom of expression? Without the freedom to offend, it ceases to exist.