These Facebook account bans are driving more polarization and undermine free speech.
Late last week, Facebook banned several controversial political figures. The list includes conspiracy theorist and InfoWars founder Alex Jones, leader of the Nation of Islam Louis Farrakhan, far-right provocateur Milo Yiannopoulos, Paul Joseph Watson, and Laura Loomer. The social media platform accused them of hate-speech. Facebook claims they ban accounts they deem "dangerous" and/or engage in hate and violence towards certain groups.
They define a hate organization as:
"Any association of three or more people that is organized under a name, sign, or symbol and that has an ideology, statements, or physical actions that attack individuals based on characteristics, including race, religious affiliation, nationality, ethnicity, gender, sex, sexual orientation, serious disease or disability."
This ban applies to Instagram too, which Facebook owns.
Were the people banned because they violated these guidelines? Did they really violate these guidelines, and are these rules fair?
Facebook expressed their rationale in an email. They said that many of the people banned associated with and appeared with Gavin Mcinnes, another controversial figure. Basically, they banned them because they were with Mcinnes. This is a sorry excuse for suspending someone's account.
Many people have associated themselves with Mcinnes; however, they were not banned from Facebook. Also, associating with a certain person isn't always a plausible reason for account suspension. For example, popular podcaster and comedian Joe Rogan has had both Alex Jones and Gavin Mcinnes on his show. Should Rogan be banned because he associated himself with them? If so, Facebook forgot about him, since they didn't ban him.
There have also been many mainstream media outlets who've interviewed Mcinnes and the people recently banned from Facebook. Should the outlets' accounts be terminated for associating with Mcinnes? No, neither Rogan's nor the media outlets' accounts should be suspended.
To be fair, the people banned showed praise for Mcinnes, but that act still shouldn't be cause for suspension. However, there is a case to be made that if a person associated themselves with a terrorist organization, leader, and/or something related, that said person should be banned. This is true and obviously makes sense. But Mcinnes and the people suspended are not a terrorist organization.
Not only is Facebook's rationale thin, but they also hold a double standard when it comes to censorship. Facebook and even Twitter have been criticized for overly banning right-wing figures and under banning left-wing figures. Both social media platforms have also been criticized for terminating the accounts of non-radical right-wingers.
There is truth to these criticisms. Louis Farrakhan has been able to keep both his Facebook and Twitter accounts until now. Various times he has said openly anti-Semitic comments including, "I'm not an anti-Semite. I'm anti-Termite." Twitter said they wouldn't suspend him for these comments. While Farrakhan has kept his social media accounts, until now, despite his remarks, others have been banned from social media.
Louis Farrakhan is pictured with many different Democratic politicians, among them Barack Obama. CNN's Jake Tapper explains it best in this Twitter thread. Farrakhan is not right-wing, he is on the left of the political aisle, despite what some news outlets have headlined.
I'm not saying that the people pictured with Farrakhan should be banned from social media. Like I previously said, banning people on the basis of that person associated with a certain individual is a poor reason unless they associate with a terrorist and/or something related. Here, I'm pointing out the double standard social media plays in their choice of account suspension.
These Facebook bans undermine the value of free speech, an idea we pride ourselves on.
This isn't to suggest that the political figures terminated from Facebook are good people. Alex Jones has flirted with harmful conspiracy theories. Milo Yiannopoulos has made overtures and excuses for the Alt-Right disguised in memes and comedy. He also has made racially charged attacks towards Ben Shapiro, Editor-in-Chief of The Daily Wire. In 2017, Laura Loomer disrupted a Shakespeare in the Park play, because they portrayed Julius Caesar as President Trump. Republican candidate Paul Nehlen is obsessed with "white-identity." Louis Farrakhan, as I mentioned, is an anti-Semite.
I disdain these people and definitely don't depend on them for political analysis. They make a living in pushing division. That being said, I do not want them censored from social media. Like all of us, they have a right to free speech protected by the first amendment. No matter how disgusting someone's idea is, they should be free to express it. Free speech is how we learn new ideas and come to conclusions on which ideas are the best.
The speech that should be banned, however, are calls for violence and/or harassment. That category of speech is not an expression of an idea; it is an incitement of violence.
Free speech is the best strategy for stamping out prejudiced and bigoted ideas. Silencing those that hold such views only emboldens them. Martin Luther King Jr. did not defeat racism and segregation by censoring his racist opponents. Instead, he used free speech to promulgate his ideas of freedom and justice, and they triumphed over the evil ones. In his Nobel Peace Prize acceptance speech, Mr. King truthfully announced, "I believe that unarmed truth and unconditional love will have the final word in reality. This is why right, temporarily defeated, is stronger than evil triumphant."