Facebook Remains A Threat To Free Speech

[Photo by Zach Gibson/Getty Images]

Peter Flaherty President, National Legal and Policy Center
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During his two days on Capitol Hill, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg repeatedly denied that the company censors information and opinion with which it disagrees, despite extensive evidence to the contrary.

Facebook censorship is real. The National Legal and Policy Center has regularly had our Facebook postings delayed or rejected outright when they pertain to Black Lives Matter, which we have regularly criticized.

It just so happens that Zuckerberg has a different view of Black Lives Matter. Zuckerberg purports to value free expression, famously allowing the “signature wall” at Facebook headquarters. But when in 2016 “Black Lives Matter” graffiti was met with “All Lives Matter,” Zuckerberg just could not have it. He issued a memo calling such sentiments “unacceptable” and “malicious” and assured everyone that the company was “investigating the current incidents.”

Before Congress, Zuckerberg insisted that Facebook wishes to be a platform for all points of view, with a few obvious exceptions like terrorism and what he called “hate speech,” that vague term that presumably to him includes phrases like “all lives matter.”

Hurling accusations of “hate,” whether accurate or not, can be a powerful weapon. Left-wing activists understand this so well that the practice has been institutionalized by the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC), which issues lists of “hate groups” and individuals.

The SPLC strategy is pretty transparent. You can smear a credible, mainstream critic of immigration or gay marriage by putting them on the same list as the KKK. This crude and reckless tactic, the only purpose of which is to shut down debate, has not precluded an embrace of SPLC by Silicon Valley executives. Apple CEO Tim Cook last year arranged for a $1 million gift of Apple shareholder funds to SPLC.

Zuckerberg is not Cook but they inhabit the same world. Zuckerberg demonstrated some self-awareness of this while on the Hill. After denying that ideological bias existed, he then sought to explain it as a regrettable result of the company’s physical location in one of the most liberal regions of the country.

To the actual subject of the hearings, Zuckerberg repeatedly made the claim that Facebook does not sell the personal data of its users. Instead, it makes money by selling ads targeted at individual users “based on their interests.” Aren’t we lucky?

Of course, Facebook knows all about those interests because it collects data on its users every second they are logged on. While it is technically true that Facebook doesn’t sell user personal data to third parties (except when a “mistake” is made), it monetizes the personal data by using it to target the ads purchased by third parties. Without user data, Facebook would not make a dime.

The only assurances that user data is not being directly sold are Facebook corporate policies, which can change, and Zuckerberg’s word, which is not very reliable.

Remember, the fantastic growth of Facebook was fueled by its inducement to millions of businesses and other entities to build a community of their own “likes.” The blue and white Facebook logo became ubiquitous in the front windows and on the delivery trucks of every small business. Facebook then figured out that since it controlled the data, and it is a monopoly, it could make a lot more money by forcing the community builders to pay to reach their own communities.  All it took was a few subtle changes to Facebook corporate policies that were explained as something else.

Data is valuable. Data correlated with other data is more valuable. It is also more dangerous. There is no stopping data acquired in “legitimate” ways, such as by Facebook when you like something, from being correlated with data stolen or scooped up in any number of other ways. If Facebook can brazenly censor expression it doesn’t like in the full light of day, just think of what’s possible in the dark recesses of its data farms.

Peter Flaherty is Chairman of the National Legal and Policy Center.

The views and opinions expressed in this commentary are those of the author and do not reflect the official position of The Daily Caller.