When Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg talks about content now, he talks a lot about restricting speech.
Zuckerberg wrote an op-ed for the Wall Street Journal to explain the platform’s nebulous position on free speech. While he admitted that he “believed everyone should have a voice and be able to connect,” he also disagreed with himself.
He tried to explain that Facebook did not leave “divisive content” up on purpose. Zuckerberg said, “The only reason bad content remains is because the people and artificial intelligence systems we use to review it are not perfect — not because we have an incentive to ignore it.”
This is a similar position to Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg’s confusing position on what was allowed on Facebook, explained at the Digital Life Design conference in Munich on January 20. She said, “We don’t want an internet that’s out of control where anything goes.” But she emphasized that she wanted people to be able to say what they wanted on Facebook.
Zuckerberg wrote that Facebook was often asked if they left “harmful or divisive content” up because it brought more engagement from users. He responded, “We don’t. People consistently tell us they don’t want to see this content.” But one wonders what kind of people are lobbying for “divisive content” to be removed.
The definition of divisive content is also unclear in this context. Merely stating that one prefers whole milk to fat free milk could be considered divisive to some communities. The conservative movement is under attack from the left on social media because of its traditional stance on gender and marriage. Merely stating that there are two genders, and that marriage is between a man and a woman, is enough to get a user banned or suspended indefinitely from social media.
Merely being pro-life, according to Facebook, counts as being divisive.
But Zuckerberg wants to make it clear that this isn’t censorship. Facebook is still giving “everyone an opportunity to use their voice and an equal chance to be heard.” Just don’t have divisive opinions.