The payback time for the global privacy neglect from Facebook

  • Advertisers are boycotting FB
  • Oversight authorities levy multiple fines for Data Privacy and Data Protections violations
  • governments want to regulate social media platforms.
  • Human rights groups worry that such laws could give sweeping powers to the government to disregard user privacy and turn the platforms into agents of the governments

The above four issues are some of the critical issues about Facebook’s handling of free speech and human rights and how the company manages freedom of expression on its platform, which has become the world’s largest marketplace of ideas.

FB is not doing enough to protect users.

The lawyers had investigated Facebook’s policies, how it moderates content, what it allows to be advertised, the algorithms it has developed and uses, and how it operated during elections. They wrote, “Many in the civil rights community have become disheartened, frustrated and angry after years of engagement where they implored the company to do more to advance equality and fight discrimination, while also safeguarding free expression.”

As the US heads for an exceptionally contentious election this November in a climate of the pandemic and protests over police brutality and racism, the report has gained urgency.

Given Facebook’s global footprint, it also has wider resonance. In the recent past, there have been attempts by many governments across the globe to curb Facebook and other social media platforms. In India, too, rules to regulate social media are in the works.

More recently, hundreds of alarmed advertisers have supported a call by a campaigning group that they stay away from contentious platforms and have suspended advertising on Facebook in July; a few, for the rest of the year. Facebook believes they will return.

Facebook has been accused of allowing hate speech to flourish, but the social media giant says it believes in free speech and acts responsibly. At a speech at Georgetown University last year, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg said he would protect free speech at all costs.

The beginning of the journey, that will never end

Elevating free expression is a good thing, but it should apply to everyone, however politicians and others get considerably more leeway about what they can say compared to everyone else, which privileges the voices of the powerful over those without power.

Leaders that pose a particular problem because their remarks often vilify specific groups. Figuring out when speech turns from being critical to hate speech is not an exact science and depends on context, and even seasoned lawyers can disagree about whether specific remarks constitute hate speech.

Balancing the rights of the speaker and the rights of those who say they are affected by the speech is hard enough for governments; expecting a publicly-traded company run by technologists and driven by profit to do it may be unrealistic.

In response to the audit report, Sheryl Sandberg, Facebook’s chief operating officer, said the report showed the “beginning of the journey, not the end,” and admitted that the company has a long way to go. Its critics remain unconvinced.


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