Facebook, Free speech, and Online Censorship

Under the First Amendment, Facebook is not legally obligated to censor hate speech - but the Silicon Valley-based site self-polices in order to stay generally free of pornography and slurs. This month, these policies came under fire when a women's action coalition attacked Facebook for not removing "rape memes" - and advertisers got skittish. Are all posts on Facebook protected under the First Amendment? Well, they're still figuring that one out. Click on for a brief history of Facebook and free speech.

Facebook And Free Speech: A Timeline

Under the First Amendment, Facebook is not legally obligated to censor hate speech - but the Silicon Valley-based site self-polices in order to stay generally free of pornography and slurs. This month, these policies came under fire when a women's action coalition attacked Facebook for not removing "rape memes" - and advertisers got skittish. Are all posts on Facebook protected under the First Amendment? Well, they're still figuring that one out. Click on for a brief history of Facebook and free speech.

Breastfeeding: More Pornographic Than Prostitutes.

This May, a coalition of women’s groups and anti-violence organizations attacked Facebook’s free speech policies in an open letter. They noted that images of breastfeeding and mastectomies had been labeled “pornographic” and removed, while memes making light of rape were allowed to remain. (Explicit photographs of prostitutes have also been allowed to remain on the site.) 15 companies, including Nissan UK, pulled their advertisements from the site in response. “We need to do better,” Facebook admitted in a written response, “and we will.” The company currently uses an algorithm to decide which posts to remove, so doing better is likely to mean some complex coding.

Freedom To "Like"

A Virginia judge ruled last April that a sheriff had the right to fire his employees for hitting “Like” on his opponent’s page. The judge stated that “Liking” didn’t have First Amendment protection because it didn’t involve the use of words. Facebook fired back by saying that the judge didn’t understand social media, and that “Likes” should be protected speech.

Facebook and Cyber Bullying

Last September, Canadian teenager Amanda Todd posted a video on YouTube using placards to describe her experience with cyber bullying. Years previously, Todd had "flashed" a man she'd met online, who subsequently harassed her over the Internet ever since. He shared the explicit screenshot with everyone he could connect to Todd via Facebook, though the teenager's family moved her to several different schools and states. After the video went viral, Todd committed suicide. Later, an employee of Mr. Big & Tall was fired for posthumously insulting Todd on Facebook, and police investigated a teenager who posted "inappropriate" images on Todd's memorial page. When the man's identity was (falsely) revealed, he received thousands of Facebook death threats. Following a stringe of bullying-related teenage suicides in 2012, Facebook rolled out new tools to help teens more effectively report bullying on the site, including a 'this post is a problem' button.

Hate Your Teacher? Don't Facebook It...

A sixth-grader in Minnesota sued her school last March, claiming that they’d violated her First and Fourth Amendment rights. The school had punished her for complaining about a fellow student via Facebook, and later demanded her password and read her private messages. A judge that the school broke the law, stating that privacy could only be invaded in that way if the school was under serious and genuine threat.

Failed Politician Demands Presidential Assassination

This just in, threatening to kill the president on Facebook is not protected speech. Jules Manson, a failed Tea Party candidate for City Council office, against President Obama on Facebook in December 2011. Manson repeatedly referred to the First Family as “monkeys” and called for the president’s assassination. Afterwards, he noted, also on Facebook, that the Secret Service had paid him a visit. No charges were filed.

Teacher Claims Being Gay 'Breeds Like Cancer.'

A New Jersey high school teacher to her school’s celebrations of LBGT History Month in 2011 with a Facebook post. “Why parade your unnatural immoral behaviors before the rest of us?” Jenye ‘Viki’ Knox demanded, adding that being gay was “perverted” and “breeds like cancer.” She was placed on immediate leave, and two Facebook pages were set up regarding the incident: one demanding her firing, and the other insisting Knox be allowed her right to free speech. Knox later quit, citing "psychological reasons."