Reminder: Facebook Doesn't Owe You Free Speech

Josh WolfordSocial Media

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If you said something really controversial, or created an incredibly offensive page on Facebook, what's the worst that could happen? In other words, what is Facebook's recourse?

It could block your content. It could remove your page. It could suspend your account. Facebook can't throw you in jail.

Facebook cannot violate your First Amendment rights to free speech because Facebook isn't bound by the nation's oldest set of laws to protect your free speech rights. Facebook is a company with the ability to set its own rules on what kind of content it wants on its site. End of story. Facebook can say that it's all about protecting free speech and if it wanted to protect the idea of true free speech, then it could. But that would be a choice. Facebook doesn't owe you First Amendment protections.

Should Facebook remove certain content if it feels it's a danger to public health? Let us know in the comments.

This has been said over and over again, but it bears repeating because we're about to get into another "Facebook censorship" debate. No, Facebook hasn't done anything. Instead, a rather prominent figure from a rather prominent publication has suggested – nay demanded – that Facebook shut down an entire group of people on the site because what they say is a danger to the public at large.

TIME magazine's editor-at-large Jeffrey Kluger has just called on Facebook to shut down the anti-vaxxers.

"One thing that would help—something Zuckerberg could do with little more than a flick of the switch, as could Twitter CEO Dick Costolo and the other bosses of other sites—is simply shut the anti-vaxxers down. Really. Pull their pages, block their posts, twist the spigot of misinformation before more people get hurt," he says.

His argument is that Facebook supposedly bans content that's harmful, specifically a "direct threat to public safety". He says that the anti-vaccination movement is just that – a direct threat to public safety. Thus, Facebook should just yank their pages and block their posts before more people get hurt.

"It’s not as if the folks at Facebook aren’t clear about the kinds of things they will and won’t allow on the site, providing a brief listing and a detailed description of what are considered no-go areas. 'You may not credibly threaten others, or organize acts of real-world violence,' is one rule, so nobody would get away with posting instructions for, say, how to build a pressure cooker bomb. There is nothing in the regulations that specifically prohibits trafficking in bogus medical information, but the first section of the policy statement begins, 'Safety is Facebook’s top priority,' and then goes on to say 'We remove content and may escalate to law enforcement when we perceive a genuine risk of physical harm, or a direct threat to public safety,'" says Kluger.

Do you think the anti-vaccine movement is a direct threat to public safety? I do. But if I didn't, it wouldn't matter. The point is that Facebook can pull every single anti-vaccination page off its site and you shouldn't really bat an eye. You shouldn't cry "censorship!" and you should bitch about Facebook and free speech.

You should just expect it.

Facebook removes content at its discretion constantly. Oftentimes that content is removed in error, as when a photo of a breastfeeding mother is flagged and taken down. Sometimes it's on purpose, after pressure. Last month Facebook blocked pages in Turkey that were deemed "insulting" to Muhammad after pressure from the country.

This was just weeks after Mark Zuckerberg himself took a stand for free speech following the terrorist attacks on French magazine Charlie Hebdo.

"[A]s 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," he said. Didn't matter. When pressured, Facebook caved.

Facebook, a company which makes the vast majority of its money as an advertising platform, will never be a haven for free speech. It's simply not built that way. This has been proven time and time again.

"We can remove any content or information you post on Facebook if we believe that it violates this Statement or our policies," says Facebook in its Terms of Service. You agree to this when you use the service. It's that simple.

Should Facebook play a part in shutting down the anti-vaccination movement? I don't know. Jeffrey Kluger thinks it should.

Will they? Probably not, although Mark Zuckerberg did take a big swipe at the anti-vaxxers earlier this week when he chose the book On Immunity for his "book club".

"Vaccination is an important and timely topic. The science is completely clear: vaccinations work and are important for the health of everyone in our community. This book explores the reasons why some people question vaccines, and then logically explains why the doubts are unfounded and vaccines are in fact effective and safe," said Zuckerberg.

Pretty clear where Zuck stands. Still, it's unlikely that Zuckerberg will take that passion and transform it into sitewide policy.

Could Facebook aid in the fight against misinformation by blocking anti-vaccine content? Absolutely. And you could be pissed about that, if it ever were to happen.

But don't cry free speech.

You have the right to say whatever you want, but Facebook doesn't owe you a microphone.

So, what's your opinion? Sound off below in the comments.

Josh Wolford
Josh Wolford is a writer for WebProNews. He likes beer, Japanese food, and movies that make him feel weird afterward. Mostly beer. Follow him on Twitter: @joshgwolf Instagram: @joshgwolf Google+: Joshua Wolford StumbleUpon: joshgwolf