Attention to Tech Giants on Speech

Even as other internet corporations have been in recent press headlines for actions criticized as targeting speech, Facebook this week took another turn in the spotlight following reports by Business Insider and the Wall Street Journal that the tech giant shut down an online employee forum that catered to conservative speech.

“Facebook Anon” was created by Facebook workers to air thoughts anonymously, and it reportedly became a magnet for employees with perspectives different than the liberal worldview often associated with Silicon Valley. However, the month after last autumn’s Election Day, Facebook shut it down.

In a statement to reporters this week, Facebook Head of People Lori Goler said, “Facebook’s mission is to give people the power to build community and bring the world closer together, and a cornerstone of our culture is being open.” However, she said the employee forum violated the online platform’s terms of service requiring an authentic identity. The news reports also referenced sources that said Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg had earlier cited harassing messages as a reason for the site’s dismantlement.

This report about Facebook comes not only in the wake of significant controversy stirred last week when Google fired an engineer who had circulated a memo expressing his viewpoints about the company’s diversity policy, but also in the midst of debate over the role of online giants in policing or allowing speech in light of the recent violence in Charlottesville, Virginia.

Following the Charlottesville attacks, Zuckerberg posted on his Facebook account that he wants Facebook to be a venue for sharing of ideas and debate, but that silencing or attacking others based on their identity or beliefs is unacceptable. He concluded, “There may always be some evil in the world, and maybe we can’t do anything about that. But there’s too much polarization in our culture, and we can do something about that. There’s not enough balance, nuance, and depth in our public discourse, and I believe we can do something about that. We need to bring people closer together, and I know we can make progress at that.”

  • For more information about NRB’s monitoring of censorship on the internet through its John Milton Project for Free Speech, see nrb.org/jmp.

By Aaron Mercer, Vice President of Government Relations

Published: August 18, 2017

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