Open Letter to Mark Zuckerberg: Tell Us What You Mean by 'Hate Speech'
During your recent campaign to reassure users that you're taking concerns about privacy and fake news seriously, you've stated repeatedly that you want Facebook to be a diverse forum. You told the European Parliament last month, "We are committed to being a platform for all ideas" and "It's very important to me that we're a service that allows a wide variety of political discourse." You added, "We have never and will not make decisions about what content is allowed or how we do ranking on the basis of a political orientation."
The problem is that you've said other things that seem to contradict those statements, specifically your comments on "hate speech." At the Viva Technology conference in Paris last month you said, "Right now we build the rules for what content should be allowed in the service. And if we decide that your post is hate speech, then we take it down." You went on to explain how you envisioned a sort of Facebook Supreme Court to manage appeals for users who have had their content removed.
According to Facebook's Community Standards, the company's organizational definition of hate speech is "anything that directly attacks people based on what are known as their 'protected characteristics' — race, ethnicity, national origin, religious affiliation, sexual orientation, sex, gender, gender identity, or serious disability or disease."
Which leaves us wondering if you're using that definition to condemn and ban conservative speech. Conservatives have been complaining for years about being unfairly booted from your platform and having their content removed. And as you've added new tools to monitor fake news, the complaints have only escalated.
A wide variety of conservative content has been censored by Facebook, but I'm specifically asking you about Christian speech. Among other things, biblical Christianity teaches the following things that many people find offensive—beliefs that all at one time or another have been called "hate speech" by various grievance groups.
- Evil exists
- Truth is not subjective
- Right and wrong are legitimate categories
- Non-Christians will go to hell
- Marriage is between one man and one woman
- Homosexuality is a sin
- Gender is defined by God
- All other religions are false -- and wrong
- The Bible is God's inspired word and all other books are inferior
The list is not exhaustive, nor does it include non-controversial Christian beliefs such as "love your neighbor as yourself" because those are not at issue here. It's the controversial parts as they relate to your platform that Christians are concerned about. Are our sincerely held religious beliefs about biblical truths— beliefs that have been essentially non-controversial for millennia—so offensive to you and the so-called Facebook "community" that you think they should be banned outright or deprioritized?
Facebook is your company and you have the right to regulate content however you want, but Christians want to know whether our beliefs (the controversial ones) fall into the hate speech category. Are we allowed to say that people who don't trust Jesus are going to hell unless they repent or is that hate speech? Are we allowed to say that God created male and female (and not ze and zir) or will such statements be removed? If we say that homosexuals are living in rebellion against God, will it be considered an "attack" on a protected class? Are we allowed to say that Islam is wrong -- even evil? Will we be kicked off your platform if we share views that offend some people?
You say you want dialogue. You say you want people to be free to debate important cultural, political, and moral issues, but do you really mean that? Or are you going to put your thumb on the scale to prioritize the views that you and your liberal Silicon Valley buddies approve of and ban anyone who espouses unpopular opposing views from your platform?
It's trendy these days for people to shut down speech they don't like by claiming victim status or by declaring that an issue is settled and deserves no further debate. If you adopt policies that give credence to that vocal minority, then the country will be worse for it — and even more divided — and Facebook will become a boring echo chamber of approved speech. The problems our world faces will not be solved if we become siloed off from one another other and stop talking and debating, but that seems to be the direction we're headed and you, Mark Zuckerberg, only fuel the divisions when you pick winners and losers.
Christianity has been around for more than 2,000 years and it will continue to flourish around the world whether you approve of it or not; we have no intention of redefining Christianity to please the Facebook police. But while we don't need Facebook to spread our message, we'd like to continue to be part of the international dialogue that takes place on your platform day in and day out, even if a lot of content we see offends us and we feel personally attacked at times.
Again, it's your decision. If you want Facebook to discriminate against Christians, that's your prerogative (and perhaps something for government regulators to consider). We're just asking for clarity as millions of Christians are in the process of deciding whether we want to stick with you or join many of our friends who have already left your platform. We only have so much time on this earth and we're not going waste it on a platform that hates us and wants to silence us. The ball's in your court. My email address is in my bio. Hit me up if you'd like to discuss.
Follow me on Twitter @pbolyard