Human rights activists banned from Facebook say that Mark Zuckerberg's 'free speech' approach to Trump's posts rings hollow


FILE PHOTO: Facebook Chairman and CEO Mark Zuckerberg testifies at a House Financial Services Committee hearing in Washington, U.S., October 23, 2019. REUTERS/Erin Scott/File Photo

  • Mark Zuckerberg has defended Facebook’s decision not to fact-check or flag posts from Donald Trump that appear to bend or break Facebook’s rules, arguing that Facebook wants to protect free speech.
  • But dozens of activists who used Facebook to document human rights abuses in the Middle East say their accounts were deleted with no explanation, NBC News reported.
  • Critics say the account takedowns show that Facebook is far more protective of free speech for people in power, and not for those who are critical of those in power.
  • Facebook said it’s reviewing the activists’ accounts, but that some may have broken its policies against “praise, support, or representation” for terrorist organizations.
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Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg has repeatedly turned to the same defense to explain why the company won’t take action on posts by Donald Trump that arguably break its rules — protecting free speech.

But Middle Eastern activists who were banned from Facebook after criticizing their governments say Zuckerberg’s defense of free speech rings hollow.

Dozens of activists from Tunisia, Syria, and Palestine who used Facebook to document human rights abuses were banned from the platform without explanation in recent months, NBC News reported. Their bans were first documented by The Syrian Archive and Middle East Eye.

Facebook did not immediately respond to Business Insider’s request for comment. The company told NBC News that it was “reviewing” the banned accounts, but that some may have broken its policies against “praise, support, or representation” for terrorist organizations.

The accounts that were banned belonged to journalists documenting raids carried out by the Syrian regime, Tunisian activists who helped lead the Arab Spring, and over 50 Palestinian activists and journalists.

According to Berlin-based Syrian Archive researchers, none of the Syrian accounts that were banned had links to organizations categorized by the US government as terrorist groups. Facebook has also falsely labeled Middle East activists as terrorists in the past — a Palestinian man was arrested by Israeli police in 2017 after Facebook’s automatic translation tool mistakenly translated “good morning” into “attack them.”

By contrast, Mark Zuckerberg has made strong public statements in opposition to moderating posts made by Trump, including a recent post that suggested people looting amid George Floyd protests should be shot.

“I know many people are upset that we’ve left the President’s posts up, but our position is that we should enable as much expression as possible unless it will cause imminent risk of specific harms or dangers spelled out in clear policies,” Zuckerberg said in a post last month. “Accountability for those in positions of power can only happen when their speech is scrutinized out in the open.”

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