Is it hypocritical for free speech advocates to moderate comments on their own site?

Spun off from

Does free-speech advocacy + ownership of publicly-accessble publishing platform = obligation to publish any legal speech?

The context was a post by myself saying that outrage at Facebook is often naive, because privately-owned platforms cannot guarantee free speech even if they want to, and if they don’t want to there is no way to impose the obligation. Irrespective of noble intent, external influences and the power imbalance between owner and user will always assert themselves. Nonetheless, I suggested that Facebook’s policy of taking down certain legal material was bad form, as was its slippery implementation of stated policy.

The discussion led to the idea that Boing Boingers, as advocates of free speech, are hypocrites for this suggestion when we also “censor” (i.e. moderate) comments.


The irony! I’ve argued with @beschizza that site moderation can be censorship, and your response is pretty much how he replied.


It’s a lot easier to find another site to post comments on than it is to find something with that rich of an ecosystem + network effect.


Of course, but it’s hypocritical to moderate your own site while slamming others for doing so. If you expect other sites to allow content they disagree with, so should you. I think aside from illegal activity and hate speech, people should be allowed to openly share. If @beschizza doesn’t agree with that… fine, but he should pick a side.


Well he is right. The 1st Amendment means you can get on your own printing press or web server or billboard and release your message. You don’t have the right to force others to print or display your message.

Like no one can come over and put up a Trump or Hillary sign in your yard with our permission, right?

“But it’s my right! Freedom of speech!”

“Yeah, it’s my yard. Go put it in your own yard!”

“But your yard is larger and at a busy intersection more people will see it.”

“It’s… still my yard?”

“Commie pinko fascist!”


I’m not saying whether he’s right or wrong. I’m saying he’s inconsistent.

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OH - good point.

Which, of course, illustrates my point that when you do make judgement calls, you will introduce inconsistency. So what one mod allows, another may not. Instead you come up with rules and err on the side of caution.

Let’s be honest, no one is being repressed here.


I didn’t say anyone was being repressed, and I also think it’s each organization’s prerogative to decide how strictly they moderate, but if you’re going to exercise that freedom, don’t complain when others do it.

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Sorry, that wasn’t directed at you, but the some of the general attitudes.

I missed your point initially, but get it now. Though thanks for allowing me to spring board from your comments.


i disagree with this, and also with rob’s framing the issue as:

[quote=“beschizza, post:1, topic:85010”]
But unless it’s nationalized and operated as a state-run utility—as if!—Facebook will always have the last word on what you get to say on Facebook.

business have responsibilities that exist in exchange for their rights. this most often comes up in terms of discrimination of clientele, the cake shop refusing to cater to a couple’s wedding, restaurants which wont seat people because of their skin color, etc. but discriminating against speech, is another form of discrimination.

there is absolutely nothing stopping countries – other than entrenched corporate interests – in extending free speech protections to the web.

a website which creates a public space – to me – is not much different in this aspect than say, a large grocery store and its public space. the store cannot simply say “this is our land get off” – but must let all sorts of people in, and even must allow things like panhandling and proselytizing on its doorstep, if those things are not restricted in public space under local law.

we do not want to live in a world where the framing of the issue is: “i own it, i set the rules.” being in business means agreeing to rules, the public gets to set those rules.


I’ve quit Facebook… mostly because of articles I’d read on Boingboing. The psychological experimentation on hundreds of thousands of users struck a nerve with me. They were "f"ing with people’s feeds by adding more negative posts or positive posts to see if it would affect the subject’s own posts (and it did).

Out of those 700000 people, I wonder how many were depressed or suicidal. I wonder if showing someone posts with a negative bias actually caused mental illness in anyone. Considering it affected how people posted, I wouldn’t be surprised. If you expose anyone to enough toxic stimuli it can really affect them.

Then there’s the issues of sharing private information and tracking users with GPS. I get it; they have reasons for all these things, but it’s gone from being a social website to something else. An entity that tracks and secretly experiments on large parts of the population. I would love to see slightly more transparent sites like Ello gain more traction, but they’re focusing on a niche right now.


Yep… All very good reasons to leave/never sign up in the first place.

But as long as so many people are on it and won’t get off, it’s here to stay for a while longer. The only thing that will cause it to implode will be a mass exodus and I don’t know what would make that happen. But given that it’s become a primary mode for many people to stay in touch (with literally everyone they’ve ever met) and to organize their social and sometimes professional life, they’re generally willing to overlook the issues you’re talking about. Everyone is talking about an alternative, meaning another social networking platform, but few people who find value in this sort of connectivity are willing to dump it for not being connected in this way. It’s like we’ve forgotten that we somehow stayed in touch with people we care about prior to FB existing…


There are so many conditionals required to make this statement valid that it’s pretty much useless.

A list of conditionals would be boring, though. Let’s zoom out and talk about what forgiveness is.

Most of the time, we use the word ‘forgiveness’ either to mean a transitive act (I forgive you) or a state of reconciliation.

As a transitive act, forgiveness originates in the mind of the one who has felt violated by another. This act can be sought by the violator (‘Can you forgive me?’) but any state of reconciliation can only be realized by the violated person.

What is this state of reconciliation that we also call forgiveness? That’s up to those involved but its essential attributes are (1) a unilateral adjustment in the mind of the violated person, not the violator, and (2) direct communication of this intrapersonal change from the violated to the violator.

If both of these criteria are met, the transitive act of forgiveness is complete.

I realize that might sound like a truncated description of forgiveness. What can forgiveness mean if the person who is being told that they’re forgiven decides to reject that message?

As I see it, there are two mutually exclusive reasons for why someone might reject another’s forgiveness. One possibility—the one that you alluded to—is that the person believes they did nothing wrong and therefore doesn’t feel any reason to believe they need to be forgiven. But the other possibility is that this person may feel unable to forgive themselves.

This last point highlights why the second criterion for the transitive act of forgiveness is about communication and not changing another person’s mind. Because that second transformation is not certain. When the violated person says to the violator ‘I forgive you’, they are not just communicating their own intrapersonal transformation, but also their blessing for the violator to make that transformation themselves.


FWIW, that seems to be true for older generations, but not so much younger ones. One of my kid maintains a Facebook account solely because there is a private group for her college cohort (set up by college administrators, not by the students themselves). Her generation seems to have moved on from Facebook years ago. I have to keep reminding my kids to check their email at least a couple of times a week, because “that’s how adults like your teachers, employers, and relatives will contact you”. They really don’t use technology the way us old fogies do.


It’s only hypocritical if you hold no nuance whatsoever.

Banning specific problem users is not the same as banning all content without discriminating based upon cultural value.

Your considering them the same doesn’t mean that they are the same.


What about moderating comments that portray BoingBoing in a negative light? Can you imagine the outrage if Facebook did that?

Just because they didn’t censor an image similar to this doesn’t mean it’s not censorship, and it also doesn’t mean I’m not being nuanced. Removing posts or users for spam, illegal activity, hate speech are all acceptable, but if Rob is going to complain about censorship, he should let people speak uncensored; even if he disagrees, and especially if it’s constructive criticism.

It’s also not objective. Who decides which forms of expression are inappropriate? I might think something is shit, while you think it’s brilliant. It might be an unpopular view, and unpopular views aren’t always wrong. That’s why you need to be consistent if you’re claiming censorship is wrong.

It would be like seeing David Suzuki dump a barrel of waste into a nearby river. It’s not that what he did will have a negative impact on the scale of most newsworthy events. It’s that he’s respected as an environmentalist, so one would think he’d practice what he preaches.

It’s not particularly ironic. I would have said this because he’s right: it’s their site, you have to follow their rules.

This isn’t a moral judgment, it’s an acknowledgment of where the power is.

I don’t expect Facebook to allow content they disagree with. You really should read my post! here’s the important bit.

Of course [Facebook] can [censor content]! As hypocritical and smarmy and holier-than-thou Facebook is about rights and access to Facebook, it still belongs to them.

Even if we got Facebook to agree to embody ideals of free expression, even if it believed in them to the heart of its culture, its nature and vulnerability as a private corporation forces it to act in its own perceived interests when a dilemma presents itself. If you care about being able to say what you want, your only option is not to speechcrop on Facebook. If you're not prepared to leave it for commercial reasons, because it's where the market is, that's cool. But unless it's nationalized and operated as a state-run utility—as if!—Facebook will always have the last word on what you get to say on Facebook.

When you post at BBS, you do not have free speech. If you think we should provide that, you’re not just sadly mistaken: you’re abdicating a constitutional right in the hopes of maintaining a social contract with another private party that will never be enforceable, in a venue where that private party has unrestricted power to control what you say, but does not have unrestricted power to control what it says.

This is what I mean by speechcropping: the delusion that companies like Facebook or Twitter (or us!) are even able to offer you anything more than the convenience of access to other people’s attention. We don’t, and we’d be lying if we said we do–especially if we meant it.


You say these at the same time:

If you want them to agree to that, you are placing moral judgement. It’s fine if you think organizations should be able to censor their private websites, but people (including myself) look up to you and other editors on this site as proponents of free speech. I’ve never looked at Mark Zuckerberg that way, so maybe that’s why I’m surprised by it.

I don’t think any of the Boing Boing editors have posted anything that absolutist about free speech.

Saying, “They shouldn’t have censored [X]” is much different than saying “They shouldn’t censor anything.”

As an allegory, if someone invites me to their house, and their dog snaps viciously at me, I might suggest, "You should keep that dog penned up when you have company over, " or I might say, “All dogs should be kept penned up when company is over.”

If I then invite people over and let my own, well-behaved dog out, I’m only a hypocrite if I made the “All dogs should be penned up” remark. The fact that I let my own dog interact with company doesn’t mean that I can’t have an opinion on whether other dogs should or should not interact with company.

Similarly, even if Rob is saying, “Facebook shouldn’t censor this particular picture,” it doesn’t make him a hypocrite when he censors something completely different. You can agree that there is a line between things that should be published and things that should be censored, and yet disagree where that line falls.