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(Original link: aljazeera.com)
Steve Clemons: Hi, I'm Steve Clemons and I have a question. Is there a way to protect free speech online while fighting misinformation and disinformation? Let's get to the bottom line.
A lie can travel halfway around the world while the truth is putting on its shoes. The saying might be a few centuries old, but it certainly rings true today. Anyone anywhere can publish anything and if it catches on, there's no stopping what it can do either for good or for evil. So, how can people be protected from the nefarious manipulation of information and the disruptive promotion of falsehoods by governments and organisations? Or should fake news be allowed to compete in an open market with real news?
Fortunately, we have three people in the room who have the answers to these questions. Melissa Ryan, a digital strategist who studies online toxicity and extremism and writes the weekly blog, Ctrl Alt-Right Delete. I love that name.
Jody Westby, a legal expert on privacy and computer crime and the founder of Global Cyber Risk.
And Jennifer Brody, who has worked on programs combating online disinformation and works at the digital rights group Access Now. Thank you all for joining us today. We're going to have some fun with this one I think.
So, let me just start with you, Melissa. Censorship or free speech. How do we draw that line between what we see as my right to say what I want to do and the question of basically becoming the source of conspiracy theories and falsehoods?
Melissa Ryan: I think it's really important that we consider the frame of speech and who social media empowers. The tech companies have consistently made policies that empower the already powerful. So, what happens is for the vast majority of us, not only is our freedom of expression limited, but our right to be safe and free from hate and harm online is curved.
Clemons: But do we have to have a judge for that? Do we have some judge said, "Oh, the less powerful people get certain safe space to do this and you more powerful people don't get that"? I mean, I'm just sort of interested how you draw the line in a tangible way, in an understandable way, between those that have at least in the United States, a guaranteed right of free speech, and those who are behaving irresponsibly. And there's a lot of clamour to shut some of that down.
Ryan : Yeah, I mean you really have to think about how many people don't have free speech because they've been driven offline entirely or they have been the victim of violence that started online. I think Facebook and the Rwanda genocide is the most prominent example, but you know, here in the US, we certainly have folks that have been driven offline because they were harassed to the point where they had to radically alter their lives. The focus of this free speech conversation always seems to centre on white men of a certain age and it leaves, women and people of colour who have been disproportionately the victims of harassment. No one's really talking about their speech.
Clemons: I want to go to something, because this is a big issue. This is a big issue, politically, in the United States right now. And I think it's a big issue in the rest of the world, where I think no matter where you're at, you're trying to find that tipping point, that inflexion point. Fascinating exchange between Mark Zuckerberg, the CEO of Facebook and Congresswoman Maxine Waters. Let's play that.
Maxine Waters: Two-point-seven billion people use your products. That's over a third of the world's population. That's huge. That's so big that it's clear to me and to anyone who hears this list that perhaps you believe that you're above the law. And it appears that you are aggressively increasing the size of your company, and are willing to step on or over anyone, including your competitors, women, people of colour, your own users, and even our democracy to get what you want. You have opened up a serious discussion about whether Facebook should be broken up.
Clemons: Now, before I get to Mark Zuckerberg's response, Jody, what she's basically saying is Facebook, you're acting like you're your own country. You have your own rules. You have your own gravitational forces and you don't have to behave in an accountable way. Let me give you all the power for a minute and you're going to fix Facebook and you're going to fix this. What should we be doing?
Jody Westby: Well, the first thing we should be doing is the SEC should start taking a look at Mark Zuckerberg. They are the only ones that have any power to do anything about him. To remove him from office, to check what he does within the company. And so far all they've done is chase Elon Musk and have left Mark Zuckerberg alone. When the company is notorious for, the first thing he wants to do is make money. The second thing he wants to do is then say, "Oh, we're sorry, we apologise. We recognised this later than usual." And then "Now, we'll do something about it," and make a promise.
So, when he has a third of...