Sputnik: How dangerous is Facebook’s censorship for freedom of speech and to what extent has Facebook cooperated with other governments, when they demand this?
Kate Klonick: Yeah, that is a great question and that has changed over the years. Back in 2008 Facebook, YouTube and Twitter all used to be incredibly resistant to government pressure to take down sites and to take down user specific speech, especially if it came at the request of the government. That’s in part because one of the justifications for its [the US] first amendment rights is to kind of be able to give people the power to push back against the government. So having an open platform was really important.
But there has been a lot of pressure on Facebook – to curb Facebook specifically, but Twitter and YouTube as well. To kind of curb some of the violence or the terrorist organizations and some of the really bad actors, harassers, hate speech that has happened on their site and to conform to kind of more EU type standards and norms around speech and I think that is some of what you are seeing here.
Sputnik: There is a difference between terrorists and people who are actually inciting to violence. But these are activists. Where does Facebook draw the line, really? Can you say that there have been other countries where they have also taken down activists who haven’t necessarily committed anything criminal?
Kate Klonick: There are always stories like this and they are hard to monitor actually because you know, once you come down, if you don’t have someone to tell your story like we see here with the Intercept, it’s hard to know that this has even been happening. That’s part of the problem with censorship. I know that for years they resisted certain types of governments requesting information or requesting take down of this information, or have severely limited what they decided they will take down, or have decided to geo-block the take down, which means they will take down certain types of information but only within the borders of that country. So this seems to be a pretty unusual step, especially [considering] that the US is maybe the only government that Facebook has historically worked with to do this type of thing. It is interesting that Israel is the other, if this is correct, that they are taking down 95% of Israel’s requests.
Sputnik: How is this going to affect Facebook’s status or popularity in other countries? Do you think it will have an effect?
Kate Klonick: I think that is a great question and the question that you asked before about what does this mean for free speech, and censorship is a great question too because maybe it could mean that in Palestine something else comes along [that they use] to organize, and for that they use different types of platforms, and this may be a turning point if Facebook over-censors, people will go elsewhere.
But there is also a question of how this may be a turning point to see how big of a monopoly Facebook really has over our eyes. One of the things that Intercept reported was that 96% Palestinians use Facebook for following news. So it is really significant if you are blocking people’s access to that. But maybe that will change in the coming months and years.
Kate Klonick, is a PhD candidate and a resident fellow at the Information Society Project at Yale Law School who studies private platform content moderation.
The views and opinions expressed by Kate Klonick are those of the analyst and do not necessarily reflect those of Sputnik.