The Two Faces of Facebook and Friends

You would think that the Internet and Intellectual Freedom would go together like peanut butter and jelly and you would be both right and wrong. The Global Network Initiative (GNI) was formed to protect and advance the freedom of expression but only three of major Internet players have signed up (Google, Yahoo and Microsoft). Those standing in the wings are Facebook, Twitter and pretty much every other Internet social media start up. The GNI was started in 2008 after a human rights organization brought attention to some of the practices of these companies. Yahoo in the past has released information to the Chinese government that resulted in the imprisonment of dissidents. Google and Microsoft have both limited search results to meet China censoring laws although Google has since changed this practice. Facebook exercised its censorship muscles by removing pages and content that it thought was inappropriate. Facebook removed a picture of two men kissing.

The follow letter was sent.

“Hello, Content that you shared on Facebook has been removed because it violated Facebook’s Statement of Rights and Responsibilities. Shares that contain nudity, or any kind of graphic or sexually suggestive content, are not permitted on Facebook. This message serves as a warning. Additional violations may result in the termination of your account. Please read the Statement of Rights and Responsibilities carefully and refrain from posting abusive material in the future. Thanks in advance for your understanding and cooperation. The Facebook Team”


The photo was of two fully clothed men kissing is a public setting. It is interesting to note that the photo does not violate their “Statement of Rights and Responsibilities” or their “Community Standards” policy yet it was still censored. As a counterpoint, Facebook has been used by groups to organize protests against the Farc in Colombia and Facebook did help President Obama in his political campaign of 2008. So the answer seems to be, if it is in the interest of Facebook it stays and if it is not, it goes. So, is free speech protected on the Internet? In a recent case, the National Labor Relations Board has stated that an employee is legally protected under the first amendment to post negative comments on Facebook about their employer and that employees have the right to talk about wages and working conditions. They went on to say that not all speech is protected but this finding does show that even though a company has a social media policy that prohibits negative comments, it is not necessary legal to terminate an employee because of those comments. The social software side of the Internet still seems very much like the wild west with companies like Facebook making up the censorship rules as they go along with little real regard to the First Amendment and Intellectual Freedom. As this technology matures it will be interesting to watch how we as a global society deal with these issues.


Cited Works:

” Facebook Criticized For Censorship.” All Facebook – The Unofficial Facebook Blog – Facebook News, Facebook Marketing, Facebook Business, and More!. N.p., n.d. Web. 24 May 2011. .

“For Employees, Facebook Counts as Free Speech.” Social Media News and Web Tips – Mashable – The Social Media Guide. N.p., n.d. Web. 24 May 2011. .

“Global Network Initiative.” Global Network Initiative. N.p., n.d. Web. 24 May 2011. . HELFT, MIGUEL. “Facebook Wrestles With Free Speech and Civility –” The New York Times – Breaking News, World News & Multimedia. N.p., n.d. Web. 24 May 2011. .

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