The Erosion of Our Freedom of Speech


Over drinks at a party I attended a few weeks ago, the topic of discussion turned to Facebook. Specifically, the topic was Facebook’s policy and process regarding “hate speech.”
I don’t deny that hate speech exists, and I’ll admit that such speech can be powerful and damaging in many ways. But my party friends and I agreed that Facebook’s censorship goes too far.
Each of us had examples of comments or whole posts that had recently been removed by Facebook, and each of us agreed that the content removed would not be considered hate speech by any normal person. It seemed to us that any two people who simply disagree on any topic will potentially face censorship on Facebook.
My own example involves a joke that I posted about dangerous dog breeds. To be clear, my opinion is that breed is not an accurate predictor of a dangerous dog. After posting the joke, two of my Facebook friends began commenting on my post. Each was firm in their opinion, one that all pit bulls are dangerous by nature, and the other that breed does not determine temperament. Within hours, Facebook had removed not only their comments but also my post. Facebook had decided that two people having different opinions about a dog breed should be branded as hate speech and removed.
Since when was having different opinions on something being hateful? Has society degraded to the point we can’t have a civil conversation about anything, or has Facebook simply decided to be the thought police for us?
Of course, I understand that Facebook doesn’t have rooms full of people monitoring everything posted on the site and making individual determinations about what constitutes hate speech. Facebook has rooms full of people developing algorithms to do that. That’s why it doesn’t work very well.
What does this mean for free speech? One could argue that we retain our free speech offline. And who are we kidding anyway? When has anyone ever changed someone’s mind on Facebook? The point really is when does Facebook get to decide for us? When does Facebook have the right to limit my expression of my opinion?
I get that real hate speech, the kind that draws impressionable minds down the rabbit hole of hate against one another, has no place in social media, but Facebook hasn’t figured out where to draw the line. Until then, enjoy all the cute baby and animal videos because that’s what Facebook is being relegated to. And if you’d like to weigh in (with civility) on pit bulls or anything else, feel free to do so on this blog’s comments. We’ll only censor you if you really are being hateful or only trying to sell something. And we don’t have algorithms to make that decision for us.

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