Facebook is proving that it cares more about expanding internationally than protecting users’ rights to privacy and expression.
On Jan. 9, Facebook’s CEO Mark Zuckerberg released a firm and emotional statement on the importance of free speech to Facebook, signing off with the ubiquitous hashtag, “Je Suis Charlie.”
A few weeks later, Facebook complied with an order from the Turkish government to remove images of the Prophet Mohammed, the latest in a series of moves from the social network that give into government influence. The decision reflects the lucrative market that Turkey represents for the American tech company.
In late December, Facebook acquiesced to the Russian government’s order to block access to a page calling for a protest in support of Alexei Navalny. Navalny is Russian President Vladamir Putin’s most vocal critic and is currently under house arrest in Moscow.
It’s also no secret that Zuckerberg has been actively seeking to have Facebook operate in the Chinese market, hosting the Chinese minister of Cyberspace Administration at Facebook’s headquarters, and sucking up to the Chinese President Xi Jinping. If Facebook did receive permission to operate in China, where it is currently blocked, it would certainly have to cooperate with censorship orders from the Chinese government.
Facebook argues that it is simply complying with local laws in the countries that it operates and touts reports it releases with aggregated government requests for data and censorship. Turkey’s government threatened to block access to the entire site if Facebook did not cooperate with its censorship orders.
Facebook is not a “public square.” It is a corporation, and it will do whatever it can to increase market share. However, if Facebook truly wanted to be the force for freedom of expression it claims to be, it could use its considerable influence and visibility to stand up against and refuse to be complicit in repressive government policies.
The greatest threat to the freedom of the press and expression doesn’t come from extremists — it comes from government itself.
Leaders and dignitaries from across the world convened in Paris on Sunday in a show of unity following the attacks on Charlie Hebdo. Unfortunately, many of the governments represented have atrocious records dealing with the press and freedom of expression in their own countries. To mention a few:
- Britain’s government did it’s best to hamper the Guardian’s ability to report on state surveillance revelations from the Edward Snowden documents.
- Turkey’s government just arrested the editor in chief of a leading newspaper and is constantly prosecuting cartoonists for drawing-related crimes.
- In a highly-flawed trial, Egypt’s government jailed 3 Al Jazeera journalists for aiding the Muslim Brotherhood.
- The U.S. government — and the Obama administration in particular — has aggressively pursued and jailed whistleblowers that speak to journalists. The only CIA employee to face jail time for the torture program at the agency was John Kiriakou, who tried to expose it.
The brutal deaths of the cartoonists, editors and journalists at Charlie Hebdo are a tragic loss.
As eloquently put by Joe Randazzo, a former Onion editor, “This is a loss for all of humanity. The victims, people who believed with passion and intellect that humankind can be better, were struck down in the birthplace of the Enlightenment, the movement from which the modern world emanates.”
At the heart of this story is the contrast between the peaceful freedom of expression and violence.
My focus fell on the bravery of continuing to work and maintain a sense of humor, while under the threat of imminent violence — even death.
One good reason to vote – regardless of who or what you’re voting for – is that many Republican governors and legislatures across the country have been working tirelessly to create barriers to the ballot. Much of this is done under the guise of preventing voter fraud, but the argument doesn’t pass inspection. In Texas, where under current laws citizens can vote using a gun permit but not a student ID, as many as 600,000 people may not be able to vote. Texas’s strict voting regulation is being pushed despite there being only 2 cases of voter fraud out of 20 million votes cast statewide in the past decade. Many politicians have come right out and said what the voter ID laws are about: narrowing the voting pool. For example, Chris Christie said that the GOP needed to win gubernatorial races so that they were the ones controlling the “voting mechanisms” going into 2016. This is because the stricter voting regulations have a disproportionate impact on minority voters.
Still think your vote doesn’t matter?
The World Health Organization labeled Ebola “the most severe, acute health emergency seen in modern times.” This is in part because it affects the world’s most vulnerable populations. Ebola is not easily transmissible in countries with public health infrastructure – it doesn’t spread like the flu – meaning the U.S. is not at any significant risk for a large outbreak. However, the sensationalist tendencies of our media and the paralysis of lawmakers during the election year make it all the more difficult to mount an effective response where the Ebola virus is causing the most damage: In Liberia, Sierra Leone, and Guinea. The World Bank estimates that “90% of the economic losses during any outbreak arise from the uncoordinated and irrational efforts of the public to avoid infection.” That being said, the very least we should do as Americans is not allow our fear to act as a further detriment to the already troubled response to this emergency.