Big Brother or Facebook?
Social Media: Balancing Conscience and Responsibility against Free Speech
We accept that, if your child learns an offensive word in the playground and brings it home, you have a right to stop them. Most would say it’s your duty as a parent. The same goes when your child advocates a point of view that is offensive.
However, what we all think is a parent’s duty becomes an issue of freedom of speech when adults want to use similar offensive remarks, or support similar views. Since social media websites are an often used platform for airing these views, should they act as parent and control the conversation or should they sit back and allow free speech?
Sympathy for the Devil?
The particular event that brings this question into focus is the refusal by Facebook to take down a memorial fan page for the murderer, Raoul Mote, who committed suicide last week at the end of Britain’s biggest manhunt.
The killer left notes proclaiming a hatred of police and his memorial page, “Raoul Moat You Legend”, has become a posting board for others who have similar grievances, those who feel his actions were justified, those who feel sympathetic, and a galvanised backlash of people who are upset at any sympathy for a killer.
Britain’s Prime Minister, David Cameron, clearly felt the need to act as parent when he asked Facebook to remove the page saying,
“I cannot understand any wave, however small, of public sympathy for this man….There should be no sympathy for him”.
Facebook refused to remove page,
“Facebook is a place where people can express their views and discuss things in an open way as they can and do in many other places, and as such we sometimes find people discussing topics others may find distasteful, however that is not a reason in itself to stop a debate from happening.”
Can sympathy for a killer, and his cause of hate against a particular segment of society, be considered an incitement of hate crime, even when many of the sympathetic comments did not specifically endorse his actions?
Facebook obviously thinks not. However, I doubt Facebook would allow a page sympathising with Hitler’s cause, so where’s the distinction? Is it enough for Facebook, or any other social media platform to say “we’re allowing the conversation unless it contravenes our Terms of Service”, or should it bend to public opinion and censor anything that conscience tells it to?
What do you think?