Mark Zuckerberg is full of it
Facebook chief executive Mark Zuckerberg wants the world to believe that his company stands up for free speech in the wake of the massacre at Charlie Hebdo in Paris, France. He says as much in a status update ending with "#JeSuisCharlie," the hashtag used to show solidarity with the political cartoonists killed during the attack on Wednesday.
There's only one problem: Facebook doesn't support free speech as much as the magazine Zuckerberg invokes, and it's actually quite harsh when it comes to censoring content.
Usually this censorship results from a government lawsuit, with which Facebook often complies, especially in countries like India or Pakistan. In those instances it blocks some illegal content, including images mocking religions or governments, within the countries. Facebook is actually considered the social network most likely to bow to such requests.
But it doesn't always remove images just because a government asked it to. The company actually has a strange aversion to the female body, as it's demonstrated by censoring everything from a New Yorker cartoon to a charity calendar featuring women instead of men, which the company is apparently fine with posing for semi-nude photographs.
Images of women breastfeeding have also been removed from the service even though Facebook claims that it's fine with the images being posted. (Apparently women can share images of themselves breastfeeding so long as their breasts don't happen to be in the shot, which is the weirdest form of circuitous logic I've yet to stumble across.)
Facebook also removed a teenage girl's hunting photos after other users complained about the perfectly legal killing of endangered animals -- even though it had decided for a short period to allow images and videos depicting beheadings onto its platform. A legal hunt resulting in legal images was censored because it offended some Facebook users.
Are we really supposed to believe this puts Facebook on par with a magazine that continued to post satirical images of Islamist figures after it was fire-bombed in 2011? Or kept publishing after Al Qaeda specifically asked its followers to kill its editor-in-chief, and will have its largest ever print run next week after 12 of its staffers were murdered?
No. It would be one thing for Zuckerberg to express support for those most affected by the Charlie Hebdo killings. No one should be killed for their beliefs. But it's another thing entirely to use this tragedy to white-wash Facebook's murky relationship with numerous governments and pretend it's not the least free social service available.
[illustration by Hallie Bateman]