Facebook Board Member: Free Speech is 'Not an Absolute Human Right’

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Posted: Jul 16, 2021 11:00 PM
Facebook Board Member: Free Speech is 'Not an Absolute Human Right’

Source: AP Photo/Ben Margot, File

A Facebook Oversight Board member said that free speech is not “an absolute” right and should be weighed against “other human rights” when determining if content should be censored by the tech giant.

Board member Helle Thorning Schmidt, who is also a former Danish Prime Minister, said Thursday that “free speech is not an absolute human right.”

“It has to be balanced with other human rights,” she said.

The Facebook Oversight Board, which consists of 20 members from around the world, was created last year to help corporate executives to distance themselves from decisions considered to be politically.

The board previously recommended that Facebook continue its ban placed the account of former President Donald Trump, which was initially imposed following the Capitol riot on Jan. 6.

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 First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution bars the government from “abridging the freedom of speech.” However, private companies are not bound by that provision. 

Facebook and other tech companies are also protected by Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act, which guarantees they will not be held liable for users' posts while allowing them to restrict content deemed "obscene, lewd, lascivious, filthy, excessively violent, harassing, or otherwise objectionable."

Last week, Trump filed a lawsuit against Facebook, alleging that it censored content at the direction of government officials within the Democratic Party. Because of this, he argues that the First Amendment should apply to the social media platform's content moderating because the company would then be a "government actor."

White House press secretary Jen Psaki said Thursday at a press briefing that the Biden administration has been “flagging problematic posts for Facebook that spread disinformation” about the coronavirus and vaccines.

While American citizens have a right to free speech, there are limitations that allow the government to restriction and criminalize “fighting words” that would likely evoke violence and lawlessness.