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Facebook Aims to Start Debate on Censorship, Fake News

Variety logo Variety 6/15/2017 Janko Roettgers
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Facebook is getting ready to explain itself. The social media juggernaut kick-started an effort to more openly debate questions of free speech and censorship, false and misleading news and the impact social media has on democracy Thursday, announcing a series of posts that aims to explain the thinking and internal debates behind some of the company’s policies.

“As more and more of our lives extend online, and digital technologies transform how we live, we all face challenging new questions — everything from how best to safeguard personal privacy online to the meaning of free expression to the future of journalism worldwide,” wrote Facebook VP of Public Policy and Communications Elliot Schrage in a blog post.

“We debate these questions fiercely and freely inside Facebook every day — and with experts from around the world whom we consult for guidance,” he wrote. “We take seriously our responsibility — and accountability — for our impact and influence.”

To start a public conversation around these subjects, and explain Facebook’s stance, the company will try to answer what Schrage called “hard questions.” A first post, also published Thursday, explored how social networks should fight the spreading of terrorist propaganda online. Another post in the pipeline will aim to answer who should decide if a post is false news, or just political speech.

In addition to explaining Facebook’s side, the company also asked users to chime in — albeit not publicly. Instead, Schrage  encouraged anyone to email questions of comments to a dedicated email address, hardquestions@fb.com — arguably an odd choice, given the fact that these very issues are about speech on Facebook.

The initiative is a clear response to growing criticism that Facebook isn’t doing enough to fight the spreading of false and misleading news and other types of objectionable content. Facebook first found itself in the defensive over these issues after the election of President Trump, and again after a Cleveland man posted a video of a homicide he had committed on the social network.

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