A Step Toward Facebook.gov?

Get ready for the government to determine what bullying online is (and therefore, what free speech isn't)

Earlier this month Facebook launched a pilot program to give Maryland school officials their own complaint channel to flag content for takedown, with the stated aim of protecting teens from “cyber-bullying” whether in or out of school, a topic on which Maryland recently passed a new law. As Maryland Attorney General Doug Gansler seems to envision things (listen here), the channel will empower Maryland officials to seek takedown of speech that they deem to constitute bullying even if it violates no law: “We’re not going to go after you, but we are going to take down the language off of Facebook, because there’s no redeeming societal value and it’s clearly hurting somebody.”

Libertarians and First Amendment advocates, myself included, have reacted with alarm. Criminal defense lawyer Scott Greenfield:

While Facebook may be a private enterprise, fully entitled to decide what content is acceptable on its platform and similarly entitled to decide that its users will no longer be allowed to write “Suzy is a poo poo head” on the wall, it’s not that simple when the censor is a state actor and the content at issue is deemed offensive not because it violates any law, but because someone is empowered to stifle speech that doesn’t comport with their vision of redeeming societal value, whatever that means.

Likewise Tim Cushing at TechDirt: “The foot’s in the door… Maryland’s anti-bullying law sets its own dangerous precedents, as does Facebook’s willingness to (at least publicly) ingratiate itself to censorious state bodies. It won’t just be one state or one social network before it’s all said and done.”

Reacting to critics, Facebook insists (queried by Wall Street Journal Law Blog reporter Jacob Gershman) that “it’s not changing its content policy one iota” and that “issues raised through this channel will be reviewed according to the same, existing community standards” as are used for complaints coming in through other channels:

The pilot program allows schools to fast-track complaints and provide Facebook with more context to help the company evaluate whether the flagged content meets its standards, the company says.

“The state is not actors in the actual decision-making process of what stays on and what’s taken down,” Alan Brody, a spokesman for the Maryland attorney general, told Law Blog.

Do you find this reassuring? I don’t. Yes, Mr. Brody may ask us to believe that the state’s implicit lifted eyebrow as a repeat player with its own back channel will have absolutely no influence on Facebook’s willingness to do takedowns, but members of the public (and those whose speech gets taken down) will have no particular way to peer into the process to see whether that’s the case. What we do know is that the National Association of Attorneys General (NAAG), a group of state officials Facebook has reason to keep happy at almost any cost, was instrumental in its agreement to create the new Educator Escalation Channel.

On the face of it, the whole point of the new channel is to make sure complaints that come in from officials are not handled the same way as complaints from private users. A Baltimore Sun account fills in some background about how the process works at present:

Dale Rauenzahn, Baltimore County’s executive director of school safety and security, said [that even as a top school official in his county] he has been stymied in contacting social media companies.

“We have tried to contact the vendors directly, and it is very difficult to get the right person,” he said, adding that school officials are often passed around or he has been told something must be reviewed by lawyers first.

Note the premise that there’s something irregular about wanting to consult a lawyer before granting a government actor’s takedown request. Has Rauenzahn been given to believe that lawyers’ review of such requests will now become more cursory?

Already, Facebook has been known to take down material on the basis of complaints that arise from misreadings, overreactions and unusual sensitivities (and even occasionally political vindictiveness). Lest it be thought to move too slowly, the service is also known for taking down content and even disabling users on the basis of critics’ side of the story, before giving an ear to the defense. Maybe there’s logic to this, but one may doubt that results will always necessarily improve if accusers using the school channel acquire more leeway to add extra “context to help [Facebook] evaluate” the complaint, which might amount simply to extra one-sided input with which to make the case for takedown.

As I told Robby Soave at the Daily Caller, I

[don't] trust the government to make a fair judgment about what kind of speech has value.

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  • Ted S.||

    What we do know is that the National Association of Attorneys General (NAAG),

    It's only a NAAG until you say no, at which point they use force.

  • Hyperion||

    This sounds like a really great law.

    Facebook Kid: I like Rand Paul.

    BZZZZZZZZZZZZTTTTTT!!!!! RED LIGHTS! SIRENS! TAKE IT DOWN!!!

  • John Galt||

    That about sums it up in four sentences or less.

  • Teaganl||

    Since I started fre+lancing I've been bringing in $90 bucks/h… I sit at home and i am doing my work from my laptop. The best thing is that i get more time to spent with my family and with my kids and in the same time i can earn enough to support them... You can do it too. Start here for more work detail go to home tab ---------- w­w­w.j­o­b­s­7­2.c­o­m

  • Libertarian Barbarian||

    Can't Reason do something about these goddamn bots?

  • Eduard van Haalen||

    The Maryland schools should look into it.

  • Response||

    I, as temporary voice of the liberal side, am very concerned that these bots are working under extreme conditions with little to no pay. And without pay there are no high taxes. And without high taxes there are not liberal policies. Additionally these bots are taking jobs away from unemployed and those who live in the internet ghettos. I'm sure there are millions of unemployed who would be willing to get off welfare just to place random posts in forums at $15/hour (minimum wage - you know it's coming). I'm very surprised my beloved government hasn't regulated this industry - these bots aren't paying taxes, you know.

  • Free Society||

    think of a the children!

  • Fist of Etiquette||

    Nationalize our treasures!

  • ||

    Treasure our nationalities!

  • Paul.||

    I've seen facebook. Facebook is no treasure.

  • np||

    “The First Amendment protects very upsetting speech,” said Olson.

    "General Welfare" + "Necessary and Proper" = Compelling Government Interest, trumps the 1A, per Attorney General Doug Gansler:

    “We’re not going to go after you, but we are going to take down the language off of Facebook, because there’s no redeeming societal value and it’s clearly hurting somebody.”
    who jokingly referred to the partnership between Maryland and Facebook as “Facebook.gov.”


    If you don't have the right to resist, any .com becomes .gov.
    I know it's not going to happen but it would be nice to see some of these big companies tell them to take a hike.

  • Benjamin||

    But, but...the government is us. So, you know, we are really just policing our own speech for the good of all.

    Seriously though that's some fucked up shit. We are all thoroughly fucked.

  • carminahultgren||

    my buddy's aunt makes $87 an hour on the internet. She has been laid off for six months but last month her payment was $19984 just working on the internet for a few hours. great post to read
    ===========================
    http://www.works23.com
    ===========================

  • ||

    19984/87 = 229.7

    That's not "a few hours", that's 10 hours daily, five days a week.

    This is valid only if the $19974 "payment" was gross; if net, then your buddy's aunt worked even more hours.

  • Almanian!||

    u mad, bro?

  • ||

    It's all worth it though so you can impress your ex from 4 relationships ago, the assholes who used to pick on you in high school, and 300 people you've never met in your life but that you call "friends" just for the sake of not looking like a social outcast, with your made-up job title and photoshopped pics from all of your fictional exotic travels.

    Seriously, what a ridiculously stupid waste of fucking time.

    Also, don't forget: on Facebook you are the product, not the customer. Gauge your expectations accordingly.

  • SomeGuy||

    i am a social outcast and proud of it....i don't really care what people think and people generally suck....i think most people on here would agree. Being popular is very over rated like Halo...yea i went there.

  • ||

    Exactly my point. Facebook is a narcissism machine for insecure people who get a really sad ego boost from collecting online "friends" they'll never meet and never speak to, hopelessly trying to play the popularity game that people used to outgrow somewhere around the middle of high school. Being popular is fine and dandy if that's actually who you are. Chasing it and faking it on the internet and sacrificing all of your privacy, to say nothing of your dignity, to do so is what's pathetic.

  • SomeGuy||

    i am not sure how many people fake it though...most people i know are generally popular....maybe not the 1000+ friends but tend to have a 100 or more friends. I tend to be the loaner so i float between groups have a so so friend in each group but low to middle of his friends list....as in i maybe a friend but not one that he would call to hangout with in any regular basis.

    Like i said i don't know who really fakes but do they really try hard to be popular? probably a few.

    I personally don't care....never have enough free time to hang out with anyone anyways so doesn't bother me. Too busy reading interwebs :/ Learning and all. The news is my new time waster....takes like 2-3 hours a day to keep up :/

  • ||

    I can't speak for everyone on there, obviously, but I've seen the Facebook profiles of some of my real life friends, and to say they are a bit embellished would be extremely generous, and It's almost like a MMORPG. Even if I actually head 200 friends, the last thing I'd want is a place where they can all bother me at once. People are weird.

  • SomeGuy||

    true when i had an account i had almost all family and a few friends but i dumped it a couple years ago or more.

  • Flak Flak||

    And don't forget the worst part, you're giving money to the traitor Mark Zukerburg.

  • John Galt||

    Today's children have little or no use for free speech. All but the rare few will happily sacrifice essential liberties for false security in virtually every instance.

  • Flat Fifth||

    We’re not going to go after you, but we are going to take down the language off of Facebook, because there’s no redeeming societal value and it’s clearly hurting somebody.

    That which is not deemed valuable to the collective most be removed from the collective. The collective has spoken.

  • ||

    Everything within the state, nothing outside the state, nothing against the state.

  • DenverJay||

    See? PM is a team player. For the rest of you, I don't know why you are upset. It's really quite simple. For instance, if you post "Rand Paul is a douche-bag" or "Republicans are the new Confederacy (actual headline, Google it)" then that is acceptable Free Speech, because it is objectively true. Now, if one of you rabble-rousers were to post "Maryland Attorney General Doug Gansler is a Statist boot-licker who doesn't seem to get what the 1st Amendment is for, nor what his job description (and limits) are", then you are obviously posting hurtful and untrue things against a loyal Public Servant, so your post will immediately be taken down. Also, you might expect a visit from Public Safety Officers, probably around 2:00 AM, just to check on your health, and make sure that you are not a danger to yourself or others.

    But I keed, I keed! This is Mericah, and we all know that it can't happen here.

  • Agile Cyborg||

    Simple fix. Quit using worthless digital social networks for personal use. And guide your children to avoid the same. I fully understand business capitalizing on the web but too many numskull people have decided to personalize the internet as their confidante and psychologist which is blindingly naive. Even IF the government wasn't full of psychopathic busybodies your personal information on corporate networks should STILL be limited drastically due to user agreements- most of which are never read while tending to be draconian assertions of ownership over what you post on networks and servers owned by someone other than you.

  • Longtorso, Johnny||

    Data You Can Believe In
    ...Once permission was granted, the campaign had access to millions of names and faces they could match against their lists of persuadable voters, potential donors, unregistered voters and so on. “It would take us 5 to 10 seconds to get a friends list and match it against the voter list,” St. Clair said. They found matches about 50 percent of the time, he said. But the campaign’s ultimate goal was to deputize the closest Obama-supporting friends of voters who were wavering in their affections for the president. “We would grab the top 50 you were most active with and then crawl their wall” to figure out who were most likely to be their real-life friends, not just casual Facebook acquaintances. ...

    ...The campaign’s exhaustive use of Facebook triggered the site’s internal safeguards. “It was more like we blew through an alarm that their engineers hadn’t planned for or knew about,” said St. Clair, who had been working at a small firm in Chicago and joined the campaign at the suggestion of a friend. “They’d sigh and say, ‘You can do this as long as you stop doing it on Nov. 7.’ ” (Facebook officials say warning bells go off when the site sees large amounts of unusual activity, but in each case the company was satisfied the campaign was not violating its privacy and data standards.)...

  • LiberTarHeel||

    Filter fact: this is in Maryland, one of those states where blue always comes with "black and ...". Been there, fled that!

  • TeresaJJordan||

    what Todd answered I am amazed that some people able to profit $9752 in four weeks on the computer. Visit Website
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  • TeresaJJordan||

    what Todd answered I am amazed that some people able to profit $9752 in four weeks on the computer. Visit Website
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  • juliajuli314||

    my roomate's mother makes $82/hour on the internet. She has been without a job for 9 months but last month her check was $15166 just working on the internet for a few hours. look at this now
    =========================
    http://www.works23.com
    =========================

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