While testifying before the Senate, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg dodged providing a definition of what constituted “hate speech” on the Facebook platform.
Senator Ben Sasse (R-NE) questioned Mark Zuckerberg today on the definition of hate speech as the Facebook CEO discussed the social media platform’s efforts to crack down on certain content on their platform. “I think the conceptual line between mere tech company and mere tools and an actual content company, it’s really hard, I think you guys have a hard challenge, I think regulation over time will have a hard challenge and you’re a private company so you can make policies that may be less than first amendment full-spirit embracing, but I worry about that. I worry about a world where you go from ‘violent groups’ to ‘hate speech’ in a hurry and one of your responses to one of the opening questions, you may decide or Facebook may decide it needs to police a whole bunch of speech that I think America might be better off not having policed by one company that has a really big and powerful platform.”
Senator Sasse then simply asked; “can you define hate speech?” to which Zuckerberg replied; “Senator, I think that this is a really hard question and I think its one of the reasons why we struggle with it. There are certain definitions that we have that are around calling for violence or…” Senator Sasse interrupted Zuckerberg saying; “let’s just agree on that, if somebody is calling for violence that shouldn’t be there, I’m worried about the psychological categories around speech, you used language of ‘safety and protection’ earlier, we see this happen on college campuses across the country, it’s dangerous.”
“Forty percent of Americans under age 35 tell pollsters they think the First Amendment is dangerous because you may use your freedom to hurt somebody else’s feelings. Guess what? There’s some really passionately held views about abortion on this panel today, can you imagine a world where you might decide that pro-lifers are prohibited from speaking about their abortion views on your platform?” said Sasse.
“I certainly would not want that to be the case,” replied Zuckerberg. “But it might really be unsettling to people that have had an abortion to have a debate about that, mightn’t it?” asked Sasse. “It might be but I don’t think that would fit any of the definitions of what we have. But I do generally agree with the point that you’re making which is as we are able to technologically shift towards — especially having A.I. — proactively look at content, I think that is going to create massive questions for society about what obligations we want society to fulfill and I do think that is a question we need to struggle with as a country because I know other countries are and they’re putting laws in place and I think that America needs to figure out and create the set of principles that we want American companies to operate under.”
Senator Sasse replied; “I wouldn’t want you to leave here today and think there’s sort of a unified view in the Congress that you should be policing more and more speech, I think violence has no place on your platform, sex traffickers and human traffickers have no place on your platform, but vigorous debates — adults need to engage in vigorous debates.”