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If You Can Ban Nipples, You Can Ban Nazis

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Mark Zuckerberg has a hilariously pompous op-ed in the Wall Street Journal defending his decisions to accept money for political ads that tell willful falsehoods about political opponents:

Since starting Facebook in 2004, I’ve focused on building services that give people voice and bring them together. Throughout history, these objectives have gone hand in hand—even if it doesn’t feel that way today. Frederick Douglass once called free expression “the great moral renovator of society.” Movements like #BlackLivesMatter and #MeToo depend on people openly sharing their experiences. And the ability to speak freely has been central in the global fight for democracy. Allowing greater numbers of people to share their perspectives is how society becomes more inclusive. 

But increasingly, this idea is being challenged. Some believe that free expression is driving us apart rather than bringing us together. Others from across the political spectrum believe that achieving their preferred political outcome is more important than allowing every person to have a voice.

The power of individuals to express themselves has expanded rapidly in recent decades. But in times of social turmoil, there’s often an impulse to pull back on free expression. Martin Luther King Jr. wrote his “Letter From a Birmingham Jail” while locked up for protesting peacefully. When America was polarized about its role in World War I, the Supreme Court ruled that the prominent socialist Eugene V. Debs could be imprisoned for an antiwar speech.

Today, in another time of social tension, the impulse to restrict speech is back. We face a choice: We can stand for free expression, understanding its messiness but believing that the long journey toward progress requires confronting ideas that challenge us. Or we can decide the cost is too great.

Only as he goes on to concede, Facebook isn’t actually an open forum:

The second challenge to free expression is the internet platforms themselves—including Facebook. Facebook makes a lot of decisions that affect people’s ability to express themselves. Our values are inspired by the American tradition, but a strict First Amendment standard would mean allowing content like terrorist propaganda or bullying. Most Americans agree that people should be free to say things others don’t like, but no one should be able to put others in danger. So the question is where to draw the line.

And of course Facebook bans whole categories of speech that enjoys constitutional protection, such as not merely sexual explicit materials but mere nudity. I don’t think there’s anything wrong with that, but Facebook can’t then turn around that it has to accept fake news advertising money because the precise level of censorship is has now is what God, the framers, and Martin Luther King intended. And as Warren observed when she deliberately purchased a fake ad, other media outlets have turned down ads that make deliberately false claims. Contrary to what Nick Clegg (and how perfect is it that he ended up as the stalking horse for Facebook on this) claims, it can be done without violating any remotely coherent concept of “free speech.”

Also hilarious is the revisionist history Facebook is creating for itself, acting as if it was constructed as a tribute site to John Stuart Mill rather than as a systematically privacy violating “are your female classmates hawt or not” site:

It’s really great that this dude has the ability to affect the outcome of elections all over the world.

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