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Centralization vs decentralization: Facebook and Twitter ponder censorship

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Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg doubled down on Facebook's approach to censorship during a speech this month in which he argued that he doesn’t want the platform to be used to “rip society apart,” but that at some point it is necessary to stand up for free speech.

Since Russian actors used the platform to interfere in the 2016 U.S. elections, Facebook has come under pressure, with critics suggesting it doesn't do enough to clamp down on fake accounts and guard against misinformation.

In the speech, Zuckerberg suggested it was becoming very difficult to know where to draw the line on what constitutes hate speech:

“Increasingly, we’re getting called in to censor a lot of different kinds of content that makes me really uncomfortable,” Zuckerberg said at the speech in Utah. "It kind of feels like the list of things that you’re not allowed to say socially keeps on growing... And I’m not really OK with that.”

Censorship vs censorship resistance

Zuckerberg's approach to protecting free speech on Facebook—much like his approach to creating a cryptocurrency with Libra—relies on centralization, contrasting sharply with Jack Dorsey's plans for rival social media platform Twitter.

At present, Facebook says it uses AI to enforce "community standards" which include rules against nudity, terrorism and hate speech. This has led to criticisms for lack of transparency, indiscriminate banning, and arbitrary moderation.

Meanwhile, Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey has shown a strong allegiance to decentralization by supporting Bitcoin, and Dorsey is taking a different approach to defining acceptable speech.

Inspired by a proposal from Techdirt founder Mike Masnick, who has long promoted a standard of “protocols, not platforms” for the internet, Dorsey is funding the development of a protocol-based decentralized social media project—BlueSky.

Whether or not the decentralization of social media could actually make it easier to enforce restrictions against hate speech remains to be seen, but the protocol-based approach could at least remove centralized figureheads from the firing line of disgruntled users.

As Zuckerberg summarised to the crowd at Utah, whatever he does in the name of curbing hate speech and protecting freedom of expression is likely to "piss off a lot of people.”



Kieran Smith, Khareem Sudlow