The Blog

  • May 12, 2009
  • Social networking’s bleeding edge

    Facebook faces an interesting problem in how to deal with a small group of Holocaust deniers using the service to meet and share ideas.  Facebook is a private service so there should be little doubt the service could shut down the hate group if it chooses.  But a larger question of how such social networking sites should be policed is at stake.

    In the past Facebook stepped in to remove pictures of breast-feeding infants if the company thought too much breast was showing.  That episode provoked an outcry of a different sort.  But together with the Holocaust deniers it focuses us on this point – who gets to decide this stuff and how?

    How much latitude should there be on a social site and who gets to decide?  This is the definition of slippery slope because I think reasonable people might agree that motherhood is sacrosanct and hate speech should not be protected.  But what happens when the issues are less black and white and the choices not as clear?  Could Republicans demand Democrats be excluded from a discussion?

    The Holocaust issue is being chased by anti-hate groups right now that are petitioning Facebook to take down the offensive speech.  But is this a model that scales?  Again who gets to decide?  This looks like a mob, err, I mean, wisdom of crowds issue and that makes the slope slippery.

    This puts me in mind of the newspaper model.  There are lots of things that reasonable people disagree with in the newspapers yet we all acknowledge that journalists maintain a level of professionalism and fair-mindedness – most of the time – that serves to give them a pass when handling difficult issues.  More importantly, no one gets to spout a flat-earth theory in a paper without some diligent fact checking.  If the facts don’t check out, the story doesn’t go up.

    It strikes me that we need some form of journalistic standards even for private sites like Facebook.  But standards require editors and a whole infrastructure of people whose jobs and passion are to get the story right.  Are we all going to become journalists?  Take some kind of oath?  Just another example of life at the bleeding edge.

    Published: 15 years ago

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