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Zuckerberg responds to criticism of Facebook's role in online censorship

By Nathaniel Mott , written on January 15, 2015

From The News Desk

Mark Zuckerberg has argued against charges that Facebook is more willing to censor its users than other social networks because it wants to operate in as many places as it can.

He said in a public question-and-answer session about Facebook that the company must weigh all the benefits, such as allowing friends and family to communicate with each other, against the drawbacks of fighting against a country's existing censorship laws.

"In an ideal world there would be way fewer laws restricting speech,” he said. “The reality is most countries do actually have laws restricting one point of speech or another... So the real question is how do you navigate this?" The question "becomes a very tricky calculus."

Zuckerberg's statements follow allegations made to the New York Times by human rights groups that Facebook is "the company most inclined to work with governments" and "do whatever is necessary to keep its service up and running" in censorship-heavy countries.

He responded to this criticism in the question-and-answer session with the following:

Some people say we want to be operating in every country because it’s good for our business. I want to push back on that. The reality is we’re not operating in every country today. There are several countries we’re not in, and our business is doing just fine. Believe me, we’re good. The reality is if we got blocked in a few more countries, that probably wouldn’t affect our business very much, so this is really about our mission and our philosophy, not about some kind of short-term business decision.
I previously argued that Zuckerberg was "full of it" for declaring in a status update that his company supports free speech in the wake of the Charlie Hebdo shooting last week. My argument was based not only on the allegations made to the New York Times, but also on Facebook's own policies which result in oft-criticized and contradictory practices.

Zuckerberg has essentially argued that it's better for people to have access to a censored Facebook than it is for them not to have access to the service at all, and that a company like his fighting a country's censorship laws hasn't resulted in any changes to those laws.

While that might explain the company's thinking when it comes to honoring government requests for censorship in countries like Pakistan -- which is particularly aggressive when it comes to censoring social media -- it doesn't absolve Facebook's own content policies.

[Illustration by Niv Bavarsky for Pando]