Citing its First Amendment right, which guarantees freedom of speech, Facebook, the phenomenally successful online social network that attracts millions of individuals and organizations, including the Chronicle, rejected a written appeal by 21 Holocaust survivors to revise the network’s policy permitting access by such hate groups.
“We think it's important to maintain consistency in our policies, which don't generally prohibit people from making statements about historical events, no matter how ignorant the statement or how awful the event,” Facebook said in its statement explaining its reasons for sticking with the current policy.
That’s very libertarian of them. It’s also very misguided.
We’re journalists, so the First Amendment is our favorite part of the Constitution. It enables us to do our jobs without fear of retaliation from the state.
But it doesn’t require us to give space to readers, or groups of readers, to spread hate messages. Let them get their own Facebook.
Just last week, in a letter to the editor, one of the Chronicle’s readers, clearly upset by another letter that previously appeared on these pages, wrote that this paper “is not obligated to reprint every venomous screed that crosses its desk.”
Just for the record, we don’t, and neither should Facebook.
Should ignorant statements be protected as free speech? Yes, absolutely. Hate mongering? Better believe it. The fact that such drek can be spoken and written in this country models the strength of our democracy.
But what about inaccurate statements?
Inaccurate. There’s a word that didn’t appear in the Facebook statement. When the Chronicle writes something that’s inaccurate, we correct it. They’re always printed on page 2 of our paper as soon as they are brought to our attention. That’s part of the journalistic process, as well as our commitment to you, our readers, to do our best to get it right.
Apparently, Facebook, which claims protection under the same constitutional amendment as the Chronicle, feels no such commitment. Holocaust denial, on its face, is an inaccurate position. The evidence that the Holocaust did happen is overwhelming, and even living and breathing in the form of its survivors — eyewitnesses to the atrocities.
Nu, where’s the correction from Facebook? Where’s the statement of regret that they allowed inaccurate information to be posted. Without it, their credibility is compromised.
We’re not anti-Facebook. As we said above, we use their service ourselves. We also respect the power of social networks to bring people together in just causes, as they did in Iran when thousands protested a stolen election, and more recently in Egypt to show solidarity with demonstrators of a corrupt regime.
But the power of social networks must be used responsibly. In the case of Facebook and Holocaust-deniers, it isn’t.