Mark Zuckerberg, the co-founder and chief executive of Facebook, likes to say that his web site brings people together, helping to make the world a better place. But Facebook isn’t a utopia, and when it comes up short, Dave Willner tries to clean up, reports the New York Times. Dressed in Facebook’s quasi-official uniform of jeans, a T-shirt and flip-flops, the 26-year-old Mr. Willner hardly looks like a cop on the beat. Yet he and his colleagues on Facebook’s “hate and harassment team” are part of a virtual police squad charged with taking down content that is illegal or violates Facebook’s terms of service. That puts them on the front line of the debate over free speech on the internet. That role came into sharp focus last week as the controversy about WikiLeaks boiled over on the web, with coordinated attacks on major corporate and government sites perceived to be hostile to that group. Facebook took down a page used by WikiLeaks supporters to organize hacking attacks on the sites of such companies, including PayPal and MasterCard; it said the page violated the terms of service, which prohibit material that is hateful, threatening, pornographic or incites violence or illegal acts. But it did not remove WikiLeaks’s own Facebook pages. Facebook’s decision in the WikiLeaks matter illustrates the complexities that the company grapples with, on issues as diverse as that controversy, verbal bullying among teenagers, gay-baiting and religious intolerance. With Facebook’s prominence on the web–its more than 500 million members upload more than one billion pieces of content a day–the site’s role as an arbiter of free speech is likely to become even more pronounced.
“Facebook has more power in determining who can speak and who can be heard around the globe than any Supreme Court justice, any king or any president,” said Jeffrey Rosen, a law professor at George Washington University who has written about free speech on the Internet. “It is important that Facebook is exercising its power carefully and protecting more speech rather than less.”
But Facebook rarely pleases everyone. Any piece of content–a photograph, video, page or even a message between two individuals–could offend somebody. Decisions by the company not to remove material related to Holocaust denial or pages critical of Islam and other religions, for example, have annoyed advocacy groups and prompted some foreign governments to temporarily block the site…
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