Facebook: The banning of extremists
Some cheered it as the righteous booting of a “bunch of high-profile bigots,” said April Glaser in Slate.com. Others denounced it as a “tyrannical act of corporate censorship.” Facebook caused a furor last week by permanently banning from its platform seven people it branded “dangerous individuals” who “promote or engage in violence and hate.” Among the evicted were conspiracy theorist and Infowars founder Alex Jones, who claimed the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting was a hoax staged by gun control advocates. His deputy, Paul Joseph Watson, was ousted for videos such as “Why Are Feminists Fat & Ugly?” Nation of Islam leader Louis Farrakhan, a notorious anti-Semite, was purged; so was far-right provocateur Laura Loomer, who has called Islam “a cancer on society” and advocated banning Muslims from holding public office in the U.S.
In response, President Trump “chose to play the victim card,” said Charles Sykes in TheBulwark.com. “He lashed out at Facebook” with a fusillade of tweets, accusing it of “targeting” conservatives. “This is the United States of America,” he railed, “and we have what’s known as FREEDOM OF SPEECH!” How ironic. It was Trump, of course, who said NFL owners should fire black players who knelt in protest during the national anthem. Yet he is now championing—and often retweets—alt-right charlatans who “traffic in hoaxes, frauds, fabrications, smears, and bigotry.” The reality is that no one has the right to free speech on Facebook, said S.E. Cupp in CNN.com. Facebook is a private company and under no constitutional obligation to provide a platform to bigots and cranks. That said, I’d rather keep the “Nazis living next door” expressing themselves in the open, rather than banishing them to “underground chat rooms and the nether regions of the internet.”
No one will miss the rogues’ gallery of despicable people Facebook banned, said Bret Stephens in The New York Times. But it won’t always be so easy to draw distinct lines between normal discourse on social media and “hate speech.” What about strident critics of Israel or militant anti-immigration activists? “Do you trust Mark Zuckerberg and the other young lords of Silicon Valley to be good stewards of the world’s digital speech? I don’t.” As Facebook’s serial scandals show, the tech wizards lack the wisdom, experience, and humility to exercise their awesome power responsibly. Now that the banning has begun, prepare for “unintended consequences.”