Facebook amended its policies to allow users to call for violence and harassment against individuals, provided Facebook does not like them, before quickly changing them back after a massive backlash.
Readers will remember when Facebook and its wholly owned subsidiary, Instagram, banned Alex Jones, Laura Loomer, Milo Yiannopoulos, and Paul Joseph Watson for being dangerous, hate figures. This was widely met with skepticism, users wondering how a radio talk show host from Texas, a Jewish woman critical of radical Islam, a gay Brit married to a black man, or a mild mannered Englishman who makes YouTube videos could be possibly be considered dangerous.
However, because Facebook determined them to be dangerous, Facebook users were briefly able able to call for a violent end to their lives.
Last night, Facebook updated its Community Standards regarding calls to violence to state that “calls for high-severity violence” were unacceptable “unless the target is an organization or individual covered in the Dangerous Individuals and Organizations policy”.
In other words, for a few hours last night, users could actively advocate for and plan the murders of any individual Facebook finds distasteful.
Ironically, this directly contradicts the First Amendment of the United States Constitution. The only form of speech prohibited in the United States are “true threats” for violence.
The Supreme Court has cited three “reasons why threats of violence are outside the First Amendment”: “protecting individuals from the fear of violence, from the disruption that fear engenders, and from the possibility that the threatened violence will occur.”1224 In Watts v. United States, however, the Court held that only “true” threats are outside the First Amendment.1225 The defendant in Watts, at a public rally at which he was expressing his opposition to the military draft, said, “If they ever make me carry a rifle, the first man I want to get in my sights is L.B.J.”1226He was convicted of violating a federal statute that prohibited “any threat to take the life of or to inflict bodily harm upon the President of the United States.” The Supreme Court reversed. Interpreting the statute “with the commands of the First Amendment clearly in mind,”1227 it found that the defendant had not made a “true ‘threat,’ ” but had indulged in mere “political hyperbole.”1228
Apparently someone at Facebook realized this new policy created horrifying opportunities for violence and calls for violence to fester on its platform, and the speech was removed later last night.
However, Facebook stopped short of admitting it was in error, and instead simply said the language was removed because it was “imprecise”.
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