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Life and Death on Facebook

Companies like Facebook do have human rights responsibilities. 

Facebook has made some decisions about its rules, its internal rules, that sometimes play out quite negatively for activists.  For instance, Facebook has a policy that requires people to use their real name and so even though a lot of activists in a lot of countries are using Facebook to organize demonstrations and to organize protests and to spread information about what their government is doing, Facebook’s requirement that people use their real name puts people at risk often.

You also have had a number of examples where privacy policies have changed suddenly and in certain countries now when a demonstrator gets arrested the first thing that their interrogator does is ask them for all their passwords of all their social media accounts and if they don’t want to hand them over they get tortured for their passwords.

And so if all of their friends and everybody in their network are all there with their real names that puts people at great risk. And so it’s true that Facebook and all of these social networks were not setup for the purpose of dissent.  They were set up for social networking, for people to meet each other and network with their high school friends and whatever else. But the reality is that people around the world are using these platforms for very political purposes and when you ask them “Well if you don’t like Facebook’s policies why don’t you just use something else?” they say “Well we have to use Facebook because if you want to reach the biggest audience that’s where the biggest audience is. So if we quit Facebook then we’re sort of contributing to the failure of our campaign and we have to be there even if we don’t like their policies, even if their policies are putting us at risk.”

So this is part of the problem and this is why I argue and why a growing number of people are arguing that these companies do have human rights responsibilities and that they do need to consider the risks of their users, their most vulnerable users, when deciding what kind of policies they’re going to put in place and how they’re going to shape their features because there are life and death situations out there.

In Their Own Words is recorded in Big Think’s studio.

Image courtesy of Shutterstock. 


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