Wednesday, 5 October 2011

What is speech on Facebook and Twitter?

"It was back in August that feminists first began to notice the proliferation of pro-rape pages on the popular social networking site. Two months later over 176,000 people have signed a US-based petition calling on Facebook to take them down, and nearly 4,000 people have signed a UK-based petition calling for the same. The Facebook pages, such as the one cited above and others that include "You know she's playing hard to get when your [sic] chasing her down an alleyway" still remain."


"Facebook's initial response to the public outcry was to suggest that promoting violence against women was equivalent to telling a rude joke down the pub: "It is very important to point out that what one person finds offensive another can find entertaining" went the bizarre rape apologia. "Just as telling a rude joke won't get you thrown out of your local pub, it won't get you thrown off Facebook."
"And in some ways they're right: telling a rude joke probably wouldn't get you thrown out of your local pub. I'd suggest, however, that propping up your local bar while inciting others to rape your mate's girlfriend "to see if she can put up a fight" would not only get you thrown out, it would in all likelihood get you arrested as well. Still, at least you could log on once you got home and post your offensive comments on Facebook instead, safe in the knowledge that they wouldn't do anything about it.


Facebook is fine with hate speech, as long as it's directed at women | Cath Elliott | Comment is free | guardian.co.uk (Bolds are our own)

Cath Elliott has an interesting point about the complex issue of what speech is on Facebook. There are two radical ways to look at this:

  • All speech on Facebook are off hand personal comments between friends who know each other, thus they can rarely be fully understood because of the context between the friends.
  • All speech is intended for public consumption with a intentional motivation.
Both views are too radical to cover the vast majority of speech on a site like Facebook.  Understandably Facebook wants you to see its content as private conversations between friends, and thus generally covered by privacy and free speech in all but the most obviously abusive situations.  Governments and activists who want to regulate Facebook may want you to see it in the later, so they can apply more laws against Facebook.

But between the two must be some level of common sense.  Well maybe not common sense but legally sound concepts applied on a case by case basis.  The problem with many social networks is their dependence on crowd source complaints to decide what is and is not to be tolerated.  But a quick look a Twitter on any subject shows that the crowd is normally just mouthing off its view and rarely taking a larger social or legal view of things. 

But there is no escaping the fact Facebook is doing a terrible job policing the abuses on its own site.  They really have taken the idea of Facebook as a mass of private harmless conversations too far.  



The site names women who have stood up to the regime, and calls for them to be murdered

Not only did this site violate Facebook's ToS, but it also violated US law, EU law, UN conventions on human rights and given Qaddafi support for terrorism the site was pretty scary.  Women were identified with threats of murder and rape and the site, as you can see above, left nothing to the imagination.

To get this site down took a Faecbook and Twitter campaign and we even contact the California FBI over potential terrorist activity.  One group we could never get a hold of is Facebook itself.  Facebook's business model involves running the service with almost no back end staff.  Given how much social activity takes place in Facebook this is disturbing.  A social that does not involve the human is a scary prospect for the people involved. 

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