Home News FB oversight member says free speech ‘is not an absolute human right’

FB oversight member says free speech ‘is not an absolute human right’

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A Facebook Oversight Board member says free speech is “not an absolute human right,” and must be balanced against “other human rights” when deciding what content to censor.

The board member, former Danish Prime Minister Helle Thorning Schmidt, said “free speech is not an absolute human right.”

“It has to be balanced with other human rights,” she said Thursday at a Politico Europe event.

The 20-member Facebook Oversight Board was set up last year to allow corporate executives to claim distance from politically sensitive decisions.

The board in May recommended that the company uphold a continued ban on former President Donald Trump’s account after the Jan. 6 Capitol riot.

The oversight board includes five Americans and 15 members from Europe, Africa, Latin America and Asia.

Helle Thorning Schmidt
Helle Thorning Schmidt is the former prime minister of Denmark.
AFP via Getty Images

Although US courts have found the right to free speech isn’t absolute, the US has strong legal and cultural support for the free distribution of information. Other countries have starkly different standards, some even mandating digital censorship.

The European Union guarantees a “right to be forgotten,” meaning people can have information removed from websites — going so far as to allow murderers’ names to be removed from online search results for news articles.

The US Constitution’s First Amendment bans the government from “abridging the freedom of speech,” though that provision generally doesn’t apply to private companies.

Trump filed a lawsuit last week against Facebook claiming that it has censored content at the behest of the government, meaning that the First Amendment should apply to content moderation — therefore ensuring wide-open political debate.

In this photo illustration the Social networking site Facebook is displayed on a laptop screen on March 25, 2009 in London, England.
Facebook’s Oversight Board includes five Americans and 15 members from Europe, Africa, Latin America and Asia.
Getty Images

Trump lawyer John Coale said the suits would prove that social media companies “are government actors” and that “therefore, the First Amendment does apply” to their actions

White House press secretary Jen Psaki admitted Thursday at her daily press briefing that the Biden administration has been “flagging problematic posts for Facebook that spread disinformation,” particularly about COVID-19.

US courts have set certain limits on free speech, allowing the government to impose reasonable “time, place and manner” restrictions on speech and to criminalize “fighting words” likely to provoke violence and calls to imminent lawlessness.



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