Facebook & That Dreaded Word, "Censorship"

Vadim Lavrusik is a discriminating Twitterer, worth following in spite of being someone you might fairly place in that category-otherwise-to-be-avoided, “social media expert.” His credentials include roles at the NY Times, Mashable, and (currently) Facebook.

But Vadim showed his humanity this week in the comment thread to this piece by Mathew Ingram on Gigaom.

Normally precise, I think Vadim stumbled when, speaking for Facebook, he commented:

"We seek to create a safe environment for all users and investigate reports from users about violations of the terms. In those cases, the Pages are sometimes frozen while the claim is investigated to ensure that malicious behavior is taking place. Calling it “censorship” is not only misleading, but grossly inaccurate."

Actually, censorship is exactly the right word for the process of reviewing material and removing it on the basis of its content.

4327205239_6145958833_oVadim may have been recoiling from the word's prejorative connotations of government censorship. It's true that Facebook's censorship doesn't violate the US Constitution, and that Facebook is perfectly free to censor in ways prohibited to federal and state governments.

"Discriminating” in the first sentence of this post is used in an approbative sense. In this context, it means “precise,” “selective,” and “reflecting good judgment.” But for many, the word is ruined; they can’t hear it without a negative connotation, something insidious, such as the classification and division of people by race.

Like "discrimination," "censorship" may be irredeemably tainted by its negative connotations. It's natural that a spokesperson for Facebook would instinctively reject the word and look for a euphemism.

Euphemisms can be funny, as long as you are in on the joke. At the end of the day, “revenue enhancements” are taxes; and "safe environment" means someone is watching you. Whatever friendly phrase Facebook puts to it, policing content against guidelines, standards or rules, however well intentioned, is censorship.

For a future post: imagining terms of service that disclaim any right to censor.

Photo from the National Archives UK: "Opened by censor."

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