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Sasse Grills Zuckerberg: If You’re Going to Police Hate Speech, Can You Define It?

Sen. Ben Sasse at a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing in 2017. (Joshua Roberts/Reuters)

A Republican senator challenged Mark Zuckerberg on Facebook’s hate speech policies during his congressional testimony Tuesday, asking the Facebook boss if he could define it.

Senator Ben Sasse (R., Neb.) said he worried about policies that are “less than First Amendment full-spirit embracing in my view.”

“I worry about a world where when you go from violent groups to hate speech in a hurry,” Sasse told Zuckerberg. “Facebook may decide it needs to police a whole bunch of speech that I think America may be better off not having policed by one company that has a really big and powerful platform.”

“Can you define hate speech?” he asked.

Zuckerberg said it would be hard to pin down a specific definition, and mentioned speech “calling for violence” as something Facebook does not tolerate.

“I’m worried about the psychological categories around speech,” Sasse interjected. “We see this happening on college campuses all across the country. It’s dangerous.”

“There are some really passionately held views about the abortion issue on this panel today,” the senator went on. “Can you imagine a world where you might decide that pro-lifers are prohibited from speaking about their abortion view on your platform?”

“I certainly would not want that to be the case,” Zuckerberg responded.

“But might really be unsettling to people who’ve have had an abortion to have an open debate about that wouldn’t it?” Sasse said.

Zuckerberg said he did not think pro-life speech would fit any of Facebook’s definitions for hate speech, adding that he “generally agrees” with Sasse’s point.

“Adults need to engage in vigorous debates,” Sasse concluded.

The Facebook founder was called before two Senate committees on Tuesday to answer questions about data privacy concerns as well as Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election.

Congressmen dipped into other issues as well, including whether there is political bias at the company.

Zuckerberg will appear before the House Committee on Energy and Commerce on Wednesday.

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