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Posted at 03:37 PM ET, 04/21/2011

Facebook and free speech: it’s complicated


The Facebook logo at Facebook headquarters in Palo Alto, Calif. (ROBERT GALBRAITH - REUTERS)
Facebook is facing some questions over comments its lobbyist made in a Wall Street Journal article on Wednesday, but his remarks reflect existing Facebook policy.

In the report, Facebook lobbyist Adam Conner said that the site might block some content in select countries and told the Journal, “We are occasionally held in uncomfortable positions because now we're allowing too much, maybe, free speech in countries that haven't experienced it before.”

The report indicated that Conner’s comments were about China specifically, but they are in line with previous Facebook’s statements. The company has already said that it does block certain content to prevent it from being shown in countries where that content is illegal.

With millions of Facebook users around the world, it’s inevitable that some content posted to the site is illegal in other countries. Rather than take down all instances where free speech runs into international laws, Facebook uses IP blocking in specific cases. For example, Nazi content is illegal in Germany, but falls under protected speech in the U.S., so Facebook selectively blocks content in that case.

That said, Conner’s comments strike a chord now because Facebook and other social media have emerged as an important tool for free speech around the world. For proof of that, you need look no further than today’s news that Google’s Wael Ghonim topped Time’s list of the 100 most influential people for his role in Egypt’s revolution, in which social media were an important factor.

All these issues come into play as the social network is reported to be eyeing a way into China, which heavily censors its Web services and Internet.

Facebook has remained tight-lipped about its views on free speech and the role its product plays in global politics.

That differs starkly from Twitter and Google, which have both launched official campaigns to help protestors in other countries and battled international censorship. Google particularly has had a string of run-ins with China over censorship issues, something Facebook will undoubtedly face as it looks to break into the country.

Officially, the company has not commented on whether it is partnering with Chinese web company Baidu on a new social network, as reported earlier this month.

“Right now we're studying and learning about China but have made no decisions about if, or how, we will approach it,” Debbie Frost, Facebook's director of international communications, told the Journal.

Related stories:

Report says Facebook signed China deal

Zuckerberg visits Baidu search engine chief in Beijing

Facebook treads carefully after its vital role in Egypt's anti-Mubarak protests

By  |  03:37 PM ET, 04/21/2011

Tags:  Social Media

 
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