Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg promised Wednesday to create a safe environment for Muslims — but the company told BuzzFeed News that his promise won't extend to blocking political speech in what has become, at times, an openly Islamophobic Republican primary campaign.
In a post on his Facebook page yesterday, Zuckerberg told the Muslim community that Facebook would fight to "create a peaceful and safe environment for you."
Donald Trump — who, the day before Zuckerberg's pledge, wrote a post about "the tremendous danger and uncertainty of certain people coming into U.S." in regard to his plan to bar Muslims from entry to the U.S. — remains active on Facebook where he has repeatedly made anti-Muslim comments and called for writing religious discrimination into immigration law.
Asked if Trump would be removed from the platform for political speech that arguably fits Facebook's definition of hate speech, a Facebook spokesperson responded:
When we review reports of content that may violate our policies, we take context into consideration. That context can include the value of political discourse. Many people are voicing opinions about this particular content and it has become an important part of the conversation around who the next U.S. president will be. For those reasons, we are carefully reviewing each report and surrounding context relating to this content on a case by case basis.
The statement reflects the deep tension between Facebook's goal of creating a safe space for users, and its role as perhaps the most important arbiter in the world of political speech. And Zuckerberg's high-profile promise — which was not tied to any concrete policy shift — elevates a tension that Facebook has long tried to quietly manage, prompting a high-profile clash between what are at some level irreconcilable goals.
Facebook moderators were also under fire this week when a meme featuring a quote from the late Israeli Prime Minister Golda Meir — "Peace will come when the Arabs will love their children more than they hate us" — was removed for violating community standards, a policy that is not enforced with consistency on the platform's massive scale: You don't have to dig too hard to find racist, anti-Semitic, or Islamophobic memes.
Facebook's next steps aren't clear. The company could remove Trump, or his posts, from the platform, and effectively become a censor of political speech. The company's statement, which said it's looking at this content on a case by case basis, already implies that this is an option. The alternative is to ignore user complaints about Trump's speech, and recognize that Facebook — like America's presidential campaign — whose rhetoric is not particularly "peaceful and safe" right now.