Politics & Policy

The Facebook Story You Didn’t Hear

(Mikael Damkier/Dreamstime)
WARNING: Do not post this article on Facebook unless you don’t mind being ‘temporarily blocked’ for ‘not following community standards.’

Remember the whole kerfuffle about how Facebook was restricting conservative news and views, how Zuckerberg bent over backwards (well, at least tilted a little bit) to meet with conservative leaders and assure them that Facebook didn’t participate in viewpoint discrimination, and how everybody held hands and celebrated the beautiful tolerance of Facebook and the miracle of free speech in a diverse society?

Well, forget it. The big news this week is that, in Europe at least, Zuckerberg doesn’t have to worry any more about those things — preventing viewpoint discrimination, tolerating diversity, or keeping conservatives happy — because what made everyone so upset in the United States is now completely legal in the European Union. And, whether it’s legal or not, suppression of certain viewpoints on social media is happening here in America, as Facebook tests the waters to see how viewpoint discrimination will go down on this side of the Atlantic. Conservatives and those precious few honest liberals who actually believe in freedom of speech had better sit up and take notice before they find themselves “disappeared” from the public square of social media.

Let’s start in Europe. Last week a whole cadre of social-media sites — including Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, and Microsoft — locked arms with the EU’s European Commission and signed a code promising to suppress “hate speech” wherever it appears. The stated goal is to combat “racism, xenophobia, and all forms of intolerance.” There’s some talk of combating terrorism, forestalling ISIS recruitment in European countries, and keeping people from being incited to hate crimes.

Combating racism and preventing ISIS recruiters from being able to contact young people sounds great. But then there’s that vague, slightly sinister phrase “all forms of intolerance.” That should make us wary, especially when we look closely at the language in the code and consider the background of “hate speech” law in the EU.

The first thing you should know is that Vera Jourova, the EU commissioner in charge of writing the code, is an outspoken advocate of the LGBTI agenda. As recently as October 2015, she spoke about the need to use “hate speech” codes to combat any viewpoint that doesn’t support “rights” for those groups. This means that the EU spokesperson who included “all forms of intolerance” in the list of things social-media companies must suppress believes that you are guilty of hate speech if you have any reservations about LGBTI demands.

That makes a lot of people guilty of “hate speech” — everybody who thinks that marriage is between one man and one woman, everyone who believes that surgery can’t change a person’s sex, everyone who thinks children probably shouldn’t be encouraged to determine their own “gender” as early as the age of four (as did one child whose story recently appeared in the pages of the Washington Post), and even everyone who merely thinks that people have the right to express the above beliefs. The EU’s language isn’t exactly tailored to limit ISIS’s posts on Facebook without encroaching on the free speech of others.

In one official document, ‘hate speech’ is sweepingly defined as ‘disrespectful public discourse’ about any group, with no restrictions on what makes something ‘disrespectful.’

But in case you still think this is about terrorism, consider the impossible vagueness of EU definitions of “hate speech.” In one official document, “hate speech” is sweepingly defined as “disrespectful public discourse” about any group, with no restrictions on what makes something “disrespectful.” In the EU-funded Online Hate Speech Manual published by the International Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer, and Intersex Youth and Student Organisation, we’re informed that “a vast majority of hate speech is being perpetrated, not by extremists or radicals, but from regular people” who disguise their hate as “love for traditional society, . . . for what is reasonable, [or] the love of truth” (emphasis added).

This doesn’t sound very much like a policy designed to keep ISIS from recruiting suicide bombers in European capitals.

In an essay in the Regent University Law Review, Roger Kiska, an attorney who defends freedom of speech and expression in Europe, Canada, and the United States, summarized the difficulties of pinning down a definition for “hate speech” in the EU’s own words. He pointed out that a recent factsheet from the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) said that “there is no universally accepted definition of . . . ‘hate speech.’” It gets worse; a previous fact sheet said that hate speech is often hard to identify because “it can . . . be concealed in statements which at a first glance may seem to be rational or normal.”

In other words, just because it isn’t hateful doesn’t mean it’s not hate speech. Think about that for a while.

But maybe you’re not convinced. Maybe you’re thinking: “That’s in Europe! Here in America Facebook knows it can’t get away with such ridiculous policies that suppress freedom of speech.”

In that case, meet Carlos Flores. You haven’t heard his story in the news, because he’s Exhibit A in Facebook’s soft launch of viewpoint discrimination and suppression of free speech in America.

Carlos is a senior at the University of California, Santa Barbara, majoring in philosophy. He’s one of those regular people the EU is on the lookout for; he makes rational statements based in a love of truth, traditional society, and reasonableness. And sometimes he even does it on social media.

In May, Carlos’s friend posted a comment expressing his frustration with the push to open showers, locker rooms, and bathrooms to all comers, and he lamented the subsequent collapse of a societal recognition of the difference between men and women. The friend was immediately attacked for being “transphobic.” After watching the bloodbath for a while, Carlos commented: “Better to be ‘transphobic’ than realityphobic. The truth is that no amount of scalpel cuts, dresses or wigs can make a man a woman. All it can do is make him look like a woman.”

Note that he wrote nothing about recruiting for ISIS. Nor did he call down fire and brimstone or incite violence against men who claim that surgery makes them women. Just that insidious love of truth.

A little later, Carlos got this:

It doesn’t end there. When the 24 hours were up, Carlos posted: “Friends: I am returning from a 24-hour ban from FB. Apparently Comrade Zuckerberg does not tolerate the inconvenient truth that no amount of scalpel cuts can make a man a woman.”

That little nod to traditional society earned him a three-day ban:

Carlos noticed that the second post, which had been deleted, reappeared after the media frenzy about Facebook’s alleged suppression of conservative news, but the first one didn’t. So long, freedom of expression.

In this new world where Mark Zuckerberg and the European Commission — neither of whom are democratically elected or accountable to the people in the countries where they work — get to decide what kind of speech and which people are allowed, it won’t take much for certain viewpoints, and certain individuals’ voices, to simply disappear. And what’s even scarier: We won’t even know about it, because social media in large part determine what we know.

We can try to minimize this with “That’s only in Europe” or “It’s for stopping terrorism!” But remember: The Facebook story you didn’t hear was Carlos’s. If you are a normal, rational person who holds beliefs that are based in a love of traditional society, reasonableness, or truth, that should make you very, very concerned.

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