Facebook and Internet Censorship

Facebook has closed a group devoted to Arabs who are LGBT because a coalition of Arab governments threatened to ban the site if they didn't, according to Boing Boing. While in the legal right, it feels like Facebook did the wrong thing.

This situation reminds me of Google and Yahoo! censoring themselves for China, to avoid being banned completely in that populous country. One of the virtues of the World Wide Web, is that it is, well, world wide. To have friction between the web's natural state and the web's biggest companies is not how things should be.

You can't blame controlling governments for acting to keep their control. But you can blame companies for assisting government policies that restrict the internet. Such moves are at odds with the very virtues of the internet that their livelihood relies upon. Google says, "Don't do evil." Yahoo's mission is, "to connect people to their passions, their communities, and the world's knowledge." And according to the website, Facebook "enables people to understand the world around them." At times like these such statements seem like mere words. The actions of these companies speak volumes.

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  • Brandee Barker - Facebook

    This blog post by Fast Company and the related BoingBoing post is not based on fact. No one at Facebook ever requested that this group be removed nor was contacted by an Arab government about the group. We investigated the situation and found that the group administrator had been contacted by another user who was falsely claiming to be associated with Facebook. That user’s account has been disabled for violating our terms of use. This has been the only action taken related to this group, which remains on Facebook.

    Brandee Barker
    Director, Corporate Communications

  • Jean Thibaudeau

    This is terribly wrong. Who would stand against those governements? Maybe Google stakes were high, but Facebook had not much to loose.

  • mockingbirdthewizard

    I think we all agree that a company can do waht it wants.
    I think the disagreement is whether it is better or worse when a company decides to censor a group of users because a goverment threatens to censor the company.
    yes, I'm an american. legally immigrated here.
    and free speech is very rare in the world.
    it's not in mexico, china, middle east, russia, et al.
    a company is either for free speech or it doesn't care.
    in this case, facebook doesn't care.
    in my opinion, their answer should have been, "ok, be the free speeach censoring goverment you are and block our site. it'll bring us more press and peole will find a way to get to it anyway. you fascist bastards."
    but, hey, that's just my opinion. ;-)

  • nourisha

    spoken like a true american who thinks our way of life is the only way of life. my inner journalist hates censorship of most kinds but independent governments have the right to do what they want. if companies want to operate in those countries, they need to accommodate them. if they decide principles are more important than profits -- which is highly unlikely for any american company -- so be it. if not, they adapt. simple as that.

  • Ulrich Wisser

    The strange thing with freedom is, that either it is given to all or nobody. That is true for "free speach" too. The best interest of the people is to have freedom. Wouldn't you agree?

    Where is that freedom for Facebook users now? Obviously you are no longer at liberty to discuss all aspects if Islam and the Arabic countries.

    You see, freedom has vanished for all of us!
    And that is not in our best interest!

    I agree that it would be sad to loose all the input from the middle east. But if the only way to have them around is to give up our (and their) freedom the price is too high to pay.

    Facebook should make all efforts to keep access open for the middle east, but not by giving up freedom.

  • Lisa LaMotta

    It seems in the case of Facebook, that they were taking the group down (that probably only affected a few members) to protect the free use of the site by the other members of those Arab countries. Removing a group does not ultimately effect a Facebookers use of the site. But the gov't backlash could get the site blocked for all of the users in those countries.

    Whereas, with Google and Yahoo, providing search data to a gov't wasn't protecting any of their users -- it was only in the companies' best interest.

    Facebook, unlike the search giants, was acting on behalf of its user -- a noble attribute that keeps its users loyal.