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Suswati Basu

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Freedom of Speech versus Hate Speech: Who is Facebook Protecting?

Posted: 11/10/11 22:33

It is hard to define whose freedom the government and large-scale enterprises seek to defend, but following recent Facebook events; it seems that sexism and hate speech remain secondary to offensive personal views.

The "rape culture" that surrounds social networking sites has been exemplified by pages such as "Raping your mate's girlfriend to see if she can put up a fight," to name just one. Moreover, the graphic violence that infringes Facebook's own Terms of Service featured in pages such as "Punch a hooker," should prohibit content that is "hateful, threatening," or contains "graphic or gratuitous violence." However, hundreds of groups still exist contravening the conditions.

According to Facebook's policy violations: "[singling] out individuals based on race, ethnicity, national origin, religion, sex, gender, sexual orientation, disability, or disease," and "depictions of sexual assault" is not tolerated. Yet groups that specifically promote violence towards women are apparently an expression of opinion or worse, a form of humour. So where does social media draw the line between freedom of speech and attacking personal liberty?

Unfortunately, internet content may be 'offensive' as long as it does not stir up hatred on the grounds of race, religion or sexual orientation in accordance to UK hate speech legislation. Although it has been balanced to avoid curbing freedom of speech, it is also at the expense of women. There is no mention of gender within the legislation, creating a loophole in terms of sexist hate speech.

It comes as no surprise that Facebook tends to be negligent when it comes to prejudice and enforcing moral obligations, having originated as a type of "Hot or Not" site by creator, Mark Zuckerberg. Zuckerberg has already been charged by the administration with breach of security and violating copyrights, for writing predecessor Facemash, however the charges were dropped in 2003.

A 2011 Consumer Report found that at least 7.5 million children -- more than one-third of the 20 million minors who actively used Facebook in the past year -- were under 13 and violated the site's terms, which prohibit kids that young from joining. The Facebook accounts were largely unsupervised by their parents, exposing children to malware or serious threats such as predators or bullies, and better still, discriminatory Facebook pages.

Conversely, freedom of speech, privacy and copyright encroachment issues has continually been relayed in the headlines. Facebook admitted to claims that it tracks user's online activity after they log off, and is currently being sued by a group in the United States.

The claims exposed by Australian technology blogger, Nik Cubrilovic, revealed that when users log out, the site does not delete tracking ''cookies'' but modifies them, keeping information that can identify users as they surf the internet. So it seems that Facebook's privacy policies are selective in terms of what they choose to curtail and follow through including what they deem as "hate speech," and "opinion."

Facebook presents an obvious disparity concerning protection of individual rights. With advertising agencies and businesses profiting from private information acquired from people's profiles; it is clear that social media prioritises its marketing clientele rather than protecting its users in any shape or form.

 

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