This article (specifially the update) takes on Facebook’s censorship policy with respect to Pakistan’s reaction to “Everybody Draw Mohammed Day” which is itself a reaction to death threats against the creators of the TV cartoon “South Park” for making fun of Mohammed.
The article points out the hypocrisy of fretting over Pakistan’s request while Facebook willingly performs the same service for western democracies. Indeed, it’s not a bad article until you get down to this paragraph:
You can’t accuse Facebook of censorship! No really, you can’t. Censorship is solely the province of the government, which is optimally prevented from such actions by the First Amendment — the same amendment that allows Facebook to govern what you put on its site.
Again, if free speech depended on the advocacy of the mainstream media, there would be no free speech (except maybe for the mainstream media). Censorship is most certainly not the sole province of the government. Comedy Central censored “Episode 201″ of of South Park based on a threat posted on a Muslim website and Facebook can choose to censor content on it’s website for similar (or different) reasons.
Censorship can be imposed by anyone, but only within the realm under their control and it’s perfectly legitimate for patrons of Facebook to complain about it. The government can, on the other hand, impose censorship by law and it affects everyone (usually) under threat of criminal or civil penalties.
And the social network does look to the First Amendment as a guide post when it comes to content, Calo pointed out. For example, “obscene” material, as interpreted from the First Amendment, is considered “obscene” on Facebook, too.
Except that the author just pointed out that Facebook bans pictures of breastfeeding and groups supporting the Ku Klux Klan, both of which are protected under the First Amendment. As for her reference to “obscene” material, Facebook is prohibited from posting such material by law so they hardly have much choice in the matter.
Finally, there is no way of knowing, in legal terms, what is obscene and what isn’t because it’s a totally subjective judgment call that is determined by a judge or jury after the fact. The fact that the First Amendment makes no exception for obscenity is completely lost on proponents of censorship. It’s just taken for granted that the First Amendment doesn’t protect speech that enough people want to see banned.
By the way, if you really want to read an enlightening article about “Everbody Draw Mohammed Day”, I suggest having a look at Nick Gillespie’s piece on Reason. Gillespie is one of the most articulate advocates of a free market in ideas of anyone I know and he’s just as good at speaking as he is at writing (he can be found at Reason TV and on Youtube).
If you want to explore the critical importance of resisting intimidation from non-governmental demands for censorship I suggest this piece from Reason, by Matt Welch which explores the responsibility of media outlets to defy threats.