by Geoff Gillette
In the wake of last week’s attack on the French satire magazine Charlie Hebdo, nearly every journalist, wannabe journalist and blogger has jumped on the “free speech, free expression” soapbox, railing at the horrific actions of the extremists who shot and killed the Charlie Hebdo writers.
One of the more ironic declarations came from none other than Facebook creator Mark Zuckerberg, who on his own page trumpeted that Facebook would be a bastion of free speech.
Tell that to the breastfeeding moms, drag queens and others who’ve been censored.
Don’t get me wrong. I respect that Zuckerberg is standing up for the integrity of his creation. But for him to point to Facebook as some sort of moral high ground where anyone is free to express themselves is not just disingenuous, but hypocritical to a ludicrous degree.
On the post on his own page, Zuckerberg stated in all seriousness,
I'm committed to building a service where you can speak freely without fear of violence.
Zuckerberg’s announcement, delivered with ivory tower earnestness, completely avoided dealing with the many ways that freedom of speech and freedom of expression are abridged on Facebook. Many have already called him out on the apparent hypocrisy of his statement, most recently pointing to Facebook’s censorship of a Pakistani actor who asked whether freedom of expression should be allowed the freedom to insult ideologies and cultures with impunity. Because he used the “N word” the post was taken down due to its violation of Facebook’s community standards. (After a hue and cry was raised, the post was restored.)
But Facebook institutionally censors its users on a daily basis. Again, using the “community standards” flag to hide behind. Over the years, Facebook has come under fire for removing photos of breastfeeding mothers. In 2012 they said they’d review the policy, but as recently as last October, a firestorm grew over another breastfeeding photo that was removed. Looking at the photo, one can certainly wonder how the “nudity” rule was enforced with a straight face. Where was this mother’s freedom of expression? How was her right to show a moment of sublime joy with her premature baby of less value than any other form of expression?
Or what about the ongoing battle many Facebook users in the LGBTQ community are fighting to be allowed to self-identify on Facebook without running afoul of the infamous naming policy? Drag Queens whose livelihoods depend on connecting with fans are forced off of Facebook for refusing to use a name those fans would never recognize.
Zuckerberg’s quote above talks about creating a service where people can speak freely without fear of violence. What about the person who creates a fake name to avoid being found by a stalker or a former spouse in a domestic violence situation? Or a pre-op transgender who is working to establish their new gender identity? Does their right to freely express themselves without fearing for their lives not count?
For some reason, freedom of speech and expression when it comes to religion seems to carry more weight in the area of public discourse. Perhaps it’s because religion is one of the most polarizing topics imaginable and as such has the potential to create catastrophic levels of discord among the user base.
Or maybe it’s because religions are organized, have attorneys, and will sue the pants off Zuckerberg and Facebook. Individuals who’ve been denied their right of free expression may not realize that they have that power as well.
Zuckerberg’s post ended with the now oft-used #JeSuisCharlie. Knowing how strongly those writers fought and died to maintain their freedom of expression even under threat of death I have to strongly disagree. Sorry Mr. Zuckerberg, #vous n'êtes pas Charlie.
Let us know in the comments, should Zuckerberg and Facebook be ringing the freedom of expression bell?