On Facebook and Uncomfortable Ideas


Last night’s moonlight through the window, filtered to make the black photo visible

I’m going to say something unpopular and uncomfortable. Mark Zuckerberg is getting a lot of flack for his comment in the Recode interview about Holocaust deniers. As a librarian, I see that what he’s really talking about is CENSORSHIP.

“I also think that going to someone who is a victim of Sandy Hook and telling them, “Hey, no, you’re a liar” — that is harassment, and we actually will take that down. But overall, let’s take this whole closer to home…

I’m Jewish, and there’s a set of people who deny that the Holocaust happened.

I find that deeply offensive. But at the end of the day, I don’t believe that our platform should take that down because I think there are things that different people get wrong. I don’t think that they’re intentionally getting it wrong, but I think-… It’s hard to impugn intent and to understand the intent.” Mark Zuckerberg, Recode Interview

People are latching onto the small concept and missing the big picture. It was an example, not necessarily a specific. It was an example of something that deeply offends him, but which he is refusing to censor. It was about trying to create a place for unpopular and uncomfortable ideas and conversations, about embracing differences. Ideally, that would be a safe place, an open space, a respectful place, but there’s a lot of people in the world, and I don’t know that very many of them are consistently able to have conversations that are safe, open, and respectful on topics that connect to their fears and wounds.

Think for a minute about ideas that each of us hold which are problematic for others, and what would happen if we applied the same criteria for exclusion to our ideas and voices as we do to the ideas of others that make us feel bad. I have friends who are right wing, and left wing; LGBT, and conservative Christians; scientists, and astrologers; kink aficionados, and asexual survivors of child sexual abuse; highly educated researchers & writers, and people with learning disabilities or from underprivileged and under-resourced backgrounds and communities. My hope is this diversity of people will encourage conversation and awareness across the divides, that we can and will LEARN from people whose thoughts and experiences are different from our own, that we can encourage flexibility and examination and questioning of what is or is not a good trusted information source and why.

So, Facebook isn’t perfect, and people aren’t perfect, and Mark Zuckerberg isn’t perfect, and I’m not perfect. I respect that Zuke is trying. I respect that it is basically impossible to define a conceptual boundary, a line in the sand, for what can and can’t be posted here, without causing harm. There is harm if the line is too loose or too tight. It needs to be a blurry boundary. We need to give people the benefit of a doubt. We need to assume that most people are at heart good people with good intentions, and create opportunities to inform them and ourselves, hopefully creating opportunities to change minds and hearts.

If we tell people they can’t be here, they’ll go somewhere else, and we won’t know who they are, or what they think, or why they think that. We won’t know what they are doing, or what they are planning. We will be creating additional darkness, for unwelcome ideas to fester and turn dangerous.

Zuckerberg had a great response that isn’t getting as much attention as the original remark.

“Our goal with fake news is not to prevent anyone from saying something untrue — but to stop fake news and misinformation spreading across our services. If something is spreading and is rated false by fact checkers, it would lose the vast majority of its distribution in News Feed. And of course if a post crossed line into advocating for violence or hate against a particular group, it would be removed. These issues are very challenging but I believe that often the best way to fight offensive bad speech is with good speech.” Mark Zuckerberg Clarifies, Recode

I don’t know about you, but I’m on Zuckerberg’s side with this.

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3 responses to “On Facebook and Uncomfortable Ideas

  1. Pingback: On Facebook and Uncomfortable Ideas | Using IT

  2. This is tough! Thanks for “having a go” at it. I don’t like to think of the hatefulness & ugliness people may adopt or find confirmed as a result, but I’m inclined to think you are right. So I posted it to my blog. I have few followers, but I’m interested to see any responses. Mary (from a2b3.)

    Liked by 1 person

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