The Századvég Foundation’s suggestions against the censorship of Facebook
Mark Zuckerberg, the founder and head of the social media site Facebook, asked governments to regulate and control the Internet in an open letter in Saturday’s issue of The Washington Post. Zuckerberg said controlling and filtering out malicious content is too much of a responsibility for Facebook to do alone. For months now, The Századvég Foundation has been investigating the issue of Facebook censorship and, among other things, freedom of expression in general. At first glance, it may seem that the founder of Facebook is indeed driven by a kind of naive goodwill, in which case The Századvég Foundation would like to render its assistance to the founder in the form of specific suggestions. To do this, it must first be clarified what Zuckerberg’s surprising initiative means in reality.
According to Zuckerberg, social media transforms political opinion and public discourse into a commodity and a private service. (This is definitely a remarkable position coming from one of the owners of a huge for-profit business.) As a result, political publicity loses its “public good” character, which used to be the domain of every nation’s self-determination. Thus a void is created that someone has to fill. Although Facebook has happily signed up for this job, it wants to shift the responsibility for exercising censorship to someone else. This is where democratically committed governments would come into play which - expected by Zuckerberg - would guard the “safety” of the individual online user experience by setting global rules.
Therefore Facebook and other social media giants are political actors, which means they are fighting for political goals and acting along political logic. Their aim is to persecute and silence opinions they do not agree with, in particular by banning the truth regarding immigration, Islam, nations, gender and the LGBTQ lobby - involving government instruments committed to the above goals. Censorship is expected to be based on the ideas of security and fairness of elections, privacy and the elimination of harmful content, while even the last assets would be taken from the hands of national governments, so that Facebook itself inadvertently would not fall under the control of national sovereignty.
If Zuckerberg’s endeavours prove to be successful, Facebook will jump to such a high level of censorship, that nations will no longer be able to provide protection for their citizens so that they can enjoy their constitutionally guaranteed freedoms.
The danger is of a colossal nature. The practice of censorship on social media is morally undefendable, as it desecrates the principle of freedom of speech. But it is dangerous politically too, because it denies the validity of laws and rules based on national sovereignty. In addition, it deprives people of knowing the truth because it prohibits the full presentation and access to facts.
The Századvég Foundation’s view is that it is up to the nations to defend freedom.
So in order do that, here’s what they can do.
1. Social media should be classified as traditional mass media and should be regulated in the same way as other content providers.
2. Antitrust measures should be taken, the provider’s ownership should be divided amongst small shareholders, thus eliminating its monopoly.
3. Extend the territorial scope and constitutional rules of the nation state to the scope of social media activities.
4. Take tougher legal action against external restrictions – such as self-appointed censors - on the constitutional rights to freedom of expression and opinion.
The problem is exacerbated by the fact that officially published moderation rules and principles have only been in place on Facebook for some time. These principles are often unclear and significantly restrict the rights of domestic users compared to how Hungarian legislation guarantees the freedom of expression and opinion, as well as freedom of the press. That is, they prohibit actions that are either permitted by the Hungarian Fundamental Law or other relevant Hungarian legislation. In addition, these rules can be overwritten by Facebook at any time due to current political considerations and ideological beliefs, making predictability impossible. Not to mention the existence of non-public provisions and ad-hoc censorship practices in addition to the published rules and principles, which inexplicably narrow the range of words that can be used and the topics that can be discussed. Therefore the freedom of speech, opinion and press guaranteed by Hungarian legislation for now cannot be fully exercised on Facebook. It restricts the constitutional rights of users, the protection of which must be restored through national legislation.
5. For example, by extending extraordinary court proceedings - similar to press rectification lawsuits - to this type of “arbitrary online service censorship”, thus providing a shorter procedural time.
6. Or by referring these matters to administrative jurisdiction. In this case, the authority - preferably the Hungarian National Media and Communications Authority - would act within a short period of time, the decision of which could be challenged before the administrative courts, which would also rule out of turn.
7. It could have an even greater deterrent effect if criminal sanctions were imposed on those who contribute to restricting the exercise of the rights to freedom of opinion, expression and the press guaranteed by the constitution. Thus, the means of criminal law could be used against the organizers and performers of illegal work and activities regarding moderating and censorship.
8. In short, social media must be persuaded by the means available to national sovereignty to respect the freedom of users!
Authors of the study:
Gábor Megadja, senior research fellow of The Századvég Foundation
dr. Balázs Zoltán Béky, expert on media law
József György Horváth, strategic leader of The Századvég Foundation