Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg told members of Congress — as well as a rapt TV audience — that “hate speech” is tough to define, but within a few years, he expects artificial intelligence to assume a greater role in sifting the nuances of social media content on the company’s pages and begin red-flagging and booting posts deemed hateful and hate-filled.
This is hardly comforting.
Remember when Facebook’s artificial intelligence robots started chatting amongst themselves last year in their own made-up language, prompting a crisis shutdown from the company powers-that-be? Hmm, yes. There is that. Of course, Facebook denied and downplayed — but then again, the bots were indeed shuttered.
Seriously, is this the technology we should be relying upon to monitor our own conversations?
But put that aside and consider this: Artificial intelligence is only as good as the programmer — kind of like climate change modeling is only as accurate as the data that’s inputted.
It’s not as if Facebook has a great track record when it comes to discerning which speech must go and which can stay.
“Former Facebook Workers: ‘We Routinely Suppressed Conservative News,'” a Gizmodo headline blasted in May 2016.
Another, from Life Site News in July 2017: “Facebook blocks conservative Catholic pages, calls it a ‘malfunction.'”
And yet a third, from The American Conservative this month: “Christianity: Too Violent For Facebook.”
Yet Mr. Zuckerberg is optimistic that algorithms can be better at censoring? No.
What will happen is that unfair censorship will continue while Facebook becomes even more immune to accountability. After all, if AI is to blame for booting somebody, who’s going to be held accountable? The algorithm?
This whole concept of hate speech is troubling, anyway. It really has no part in America’s constitutional system.
In response to Sen. Ben Sasse’s request for Mr. Zuckerberg to define hate speech, the Facebook chief said: “I think that this is a really hard question, and I think it’s one of the reasons why we struggle with it.”
Well, it is and isn’t a hard question. The best answer would go like this: “Well, senator, there really is no such thing in America as hate speech, at least not in any criminal, prosecutorial way. There’s hateful speech. There’s hate-filled speech. But hate speech, as a criminal offense? Nope, not really a thing. Even the U.S. Supreme Court has noted so, most recently in 2017 in Matal vs. Tam.”
Mr. Zuckerberg, sadly, didn’t make that argument. He also failed to acknowledge that defining hateful and hate-filled speech isn’t that hard, either.
A second-best answer? Citing examples of speech that wouldn’t be considered Facebook-worthy. Calls for physical violence should be an automatic click in the “Not Allowed” column. Recruitment calls for jihadis — another big no. Sex sales of children, sex slavery of women — no, no and more no.
But what of other speech? Conservative or Christian speech that, say, criticizes some Democrats as loons, points out jihadi truths of Islam, calls for an end of baby-killing abortions or denounces money-grubbing unions — or any other speech that counters the progressive viewpoints in bold, blunt and even vitriolic manner? That’s just speech.
That’s just regular old First Amendment, American speech — the kind the founders would want protected and did in fact protect. The kind that Facebook has been accused of censoring in recent months.
Mr. Zuckerberg’s failure to fully acknowledge the basic constitutional concept is worrisome in itself. But add to that Facebook’s failures at upholding and protecting speech that never should be considered hateful or hate-filled in the first place, and it’s clear that tossing off censorship duties onto a human-programmed bit of software isn’t a guarantee that Facebook’s bias will disappear.
It’s simply a guarantee that trying to get answers about the bias will become all the more difficult.
⦁ Cheryl Chumley can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter, @ckchumley.
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