Facebook Dictates, Controls Online Speech, Professors Say

fb_iconWith one billion active users, Facebook is the biggest single communications network in human history. It’s not surprising, then, to learn that the site has tremendous influence over online discourse. Though Facebook’s policies regarding content on its pages is stricter than Twitter and other social media sites, its methods for dealing with troubling content is far more democratic, relying on the site’s massive user base to police itself by flagging offensive material. Still, as was noted in a recent NPR article, Facebook has more power than virtually any government or legal entity on earth to determine communication.

[Social media sites] have more power over who can speak and what can be said all across the globe than any king or president or Supreme Court justice,” says Jeffrey Rosen, a George Washington University law professor. “But unlike presidents, Facebook is not constrained by the Constitution. The First Amendment only binds the government — not private corporations.”

Of course, anonymous speech is virtually impossible on Facebook. The only previous bastion of anonymous posting was Community pages, though Facebook now requires Community page admins to publicly identify themselves if their pages are flagged as offensive. But as Rosen points out, a lot of important social or political speech is rooted in the speakers remaining anonymous.

Ultimately, Facebook is going to have to find a middle ground between controlling the content on its pages and letting its users express themselves. It’s a little frightening just how much online communication Facebook controls, but as long as they’re both fair and understanding, the site can co-exist with its outspoken users.