In a recent op-ed, Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg implored the state to get more involved in governing the internet. “Every day, we make decisions about what speech is harmful, what constitutes political advertising, and how to prevent sophisticated cyberattacks,” he began. “These are important for keeping our community safe. But if we were starting from scratch, we wouldn’t ask companies to make these judgments alone.”
Zuckerberg’s case for government-instituted speech codes is a cynical attempt to deflect criticism aimed at his company. But it’s also propelled by two corrosive political myths.
For starters, there’s no such a thing as “harmful speech.” There might be speech that offends us. There might be speech we disagree with. There’s also speech that’s inarguably ugly, dishonest, pornographic or despicable. “We” allow these unpleasant words to go largely unregulated because we value the broader liberty of being able to offer opinions without government censors dictating which thoughts are acceptable.
So if Zuckerberg wants to rid his platform of this “hate speech,” no one is stopping him. Facebook allegedly employs a number of new mechanisms to achieve this very task. Good luck.