Facebook suspended GotNews editor-in-chief Charles C. Johnson for 30 days on Tuesday after the news media entrepreneur met with WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange.
Facebook saw Johnson’s post responding to false charges from a far-left blogger that Johnson was a Holocaust denier as an excuse to ban him from posting for a month.
Companies like Twitter, Reddit and Facebook that have interacting users are subject to protections from civil liabilities (as in from libel) and criminal liabilities (as in their users’ death threats) due to a provision in the U.S. Communications Decency Act that says: “No provider … of an interactive computer service shall be treated as the publisher… of any information provided by another information content provider [as in a user of the service].”
A bill passed the German parliament in July subjecting Twitter, Facebook and YouTube to up to $50 million in fines should they not censor discussion of the Holocaust. Forced by the new law, early this month, Facebook opened up a new “deletion center” in one German town to employ 500 full-time censors.
When Facebook blocked Johnson, were they acting upon their own consciences, or trying to stay afloat in Germany?
In 2009, Facebook media representative Barry Schnitt pushed back on calls to censor arguments about the technical aspects of the Holocaust. Schnitt told CNET’s Chris Matyszczyk then: “[W]e want Facebook to be a place where ideas, even controversial ideas, can be discussed.”
Schnitt elaborated on the pro-free speech instincts of Facebook’s leadership at the time:
One thing to consider that someone actually mentioned … was the idea that there may be a benefit to having these ideas discussed in the open. Would we rather Holocaust denial was discussed behind closed doors or quietly propagated by anonymous sources? Or would we rather it was discussed in the open on Facebook where people’s real names and their photo is associated with it for their friends, peers, and colleagues to see?
Facebook spokesman Andrew Noyes went even further, telling Today.com, “We have spent considerable time internally discussing the issues of Holocaust denial and have come to the conclusion that the mere statement of denying the Holocaust is not a violation of our terms.”
As long as Facebook thinks censoring Johnson or anyone like him is good business in Germany, it won’t be for Facebook in the United States—that is, if Facebook wants to be free of responsibility for the worst things people do with their platform here.
The FTC must do its jobs and regulate these social media giants. If President Donald Trump’s administration and Congress do not act, free speech will be crushed and Trump himself has little chance of winning re-election.
Stay tuned for more.
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