Radio Berkman 230: What We Choose to Censor

October 30th, 2015

Listen:or download | …also in Ogg

Facebook has had a lot of trouble with misogynistic speech. A few years ago, several women’s groups joined together to petition Facebook to work harder to block misogynistic pages, posts, and replies. At the time Facebook had strict standards against hate speech that was racist or anti-semitic — such speech would be blocked or take down. These groups simply asked that gendered hate speech receive the same treatment.

It was ironic, people said, that Facebook would commonly take down photos of women breastfeeding in response to complaints. Such content was deemed pornographic. But when Facebook users complained about comments that were misogynistic or harassing women, Facebook defended their decisions not to take them down. Their reasoning was one of semantics: Comments that described gendered violence didn’t actually threaten violence, they would argue. But — campaigners pointed out — misogynistic content actually is threatening, and creates an unsafe environment for speech.

The campaigners won. But this isn’t the first time Facebook’s policies on censorship have been questioned by the public. And it won’t be the last.

Right now, many European countries are asking Facebook to more strictly police hate speech on the platform.

Jillian York is a writer and the director for International Freedom of Expression at the Electronic Frontier Foundation. She joined us to talk about the most recent debates about online speech, and why she questions whether these kinds of decisions should be left up to Facebook at all.

Reference Section
Jillian’s recent post “On Facebook’s Ideology”

Photo courtesy of zubrow
Music courtesy of

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This week’s episode produced by Elizabeth Gillis and Daniel Dennis Jones.

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