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Facebook is right to boot abusers such as Farrakhan, Jones and Yiannopoulos

By Clarence Page, Tribune Content Agency on

Facebook has permanently banned several hate-spewing firebrands, including Chicago-based Nation of Islam leader Minister Louis Farrakhan, Infowars host Alex Jones and former Breitbart News editor Milo Yiannopoulos, for being extremist and "dangerous." It's about time.

My normal default position is to push back against censorship of speech. The best response to offensive speech, as civil libertarians say, is more speech -- counterspeech that offers opposing views.

But the digital age has brought us a new "normal," even for Facebook.

The First Amendment, it is important to note for those who don't remember it from their schooling, protects us Americans against infringements on free speech and free press by government. But the amendment also protects the right of private individuals and companies to decide what sort of content can be posted on their private platforms.

With the rise of hate groups and dangerous anti-science propagandists such as the anti-vaccination cults that feed the current resurgence of measles as a global menace, Facebook and other social networks have felt increasing pressure to follow the spirit of one of Google's original mottoes: "Don't be evil."

Calls for Facebook to be more transparent and trustworthy surged after revelations last year that consumer data had been mishandled, most notably in Cambridge Analytica's harvesting of the personal data in millions of Facebook users' profiles without their consent and using it for political purposes.

 

That mess was followed by media revelations that personnel in Myanmar's military have been using the platform like a Russian troll factory, spreading hatred behind fake identities to inflame hatred of the country's beleaguered Muslim Rohingya minority.

As Facebook's stock price fell in the second half of 2018, calls for tighter regulation and policing of online hate soared. But so, quite reasonably, has concern about censorship. Who will Facebook ban next?

That depends. I was reluctant to ban Farrakhan, for example, after years of observing the good that his unarmed security and social service organization, the Fruit of Islam, has done to help rehabilitate prison inmates and police public housing developments.

But I also believe that, if we're all going to continue to live together peacefully in this very diverse country, we need to ostracize anti-Semitic conspiracy rhetoric and innuendo by Farrakhan just as we would if it came from, say, President Donald Trump. The president has more power, to be sure, but Facebook should feel as obligated as anyone else to avoid giving a platform to social poison.

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(c) 2019 CLARENCE PAGE DISTRIBUTED BY TRIBUNE MEDIA SERVICES, INC.

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