Digital Debate I (Like) Freedom of Speech

As the 25th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall approaches, a Facebook executive argues that the world's largest social networking site is also breaking down walls.
Twenty-five years after the fall of the Berlin Wall, Facebook is providing a valuable online forum for the equally pressing political debates of our time, an executive argued.

November 9 marks the 25th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall. It is a day that commemorates a reunited Germany, which came to fruition due to the power of its people and their freedom of expression. Today, due to the unwavering courage of Germans on both sides of the Wall, Germany is one entity and its people live together in unity. Through actions that went against the powerful state apparatus, the East Germans rallied together for one single cause: freedom from oppression. The fall of the Berlin Wall reminds us to never take freedom of life, religion, movement and thought for granted. I remember the heroism of this day 25 year ago and, in its honor, I will continue to help people facing similar struggles today. I want Facebook to be a platform on which freedom of speech can flourish.  

I would like to start by discussing the importance of freedom of expression. It is a fundamental human right and the essential foundation of democracy and liberty. In 1937, a famous American judge, Benjamin Cardozo, wrote in his memoirs that “freedom of expression is the matrix, the indispensable condition, of nearly every other form of freedom.” Freedom of expression is the cornerstone of a functional democracy, for it promotes certain societal values.

Since its launch 10 years ago, Facebook has provided more than 1.35 billion people with the opportunity to connect, share information and experience the social power of the web. Facebook transcends borders by bringing together people from around the globe.

There are unfortunately still many places in the world that suffer from censorship and oppression, but the breadth of the Internet is challenging this status quo. The Internet has introduced social networking platforms which offer opportunities for people all over the world to challenge despotism. This was seen with the Arab Spring, where people organized uprisings against the state via the Internet. Opponents used social media to identify goals, build solidarity and organize demonstrations. Such websites are radically enhancing our access to information and empower us to share ideas and connect with the whole world. Freedom of expression has more opportunity to thrive online, since it is void of some of the limitations inherent in traditional print or broadcast media.

By using social networking platforms, a new generation of people is able to expose the world to stories that would otherwise go unheard. This is our mission at Facebook. We want to provide a communication platform that allows people to connect without us dictating how they interact or what they say. As a neutral platform, Facebook perceives freedom of expression as an aspect of self-realization and individual autonomy. Sharing thoughts and experiences is an intrinsic part of being human. Restrictions on this ability are viewed as hindering both individual autonomy and the ability to attain self-fulfillment.

Since its launch 10 years ago, Facebook has provided more than 1.35 billion people with the opportunity to connect, share information and experience the social power of the Internet. Facebook transcends borders by bringing together people from around the globe. News are no longer constrained to one location.

We are a communication platform that allows people to connect without dictating how they interact or what they say.

Moreover, by bringing Facebook to mobile phones, the social networking site is becoming more accessible to people who do not own a computer. Now, 1.12 billion people use their mobile device each month to access Facebook, allowing them to actively share and spread news, pictures and emotions about important current events. This has helped create opportunities for people to express their political views in poorer countries where political engagement has often been met with intimidation and death threats. This is extraordinary, and demonstrates how social networking platforms have opened up new possibilities for the realization of the right to freedom of expression. Facebook’s speed, worldwide reach and neutrality have enabled users to disseminate information in real time and helped mobilize people. This is a relatively new phenomenon and one which Facebook helped make possible.

However, one should never forget that the ability of Facebook to promote freedom of expression is derived from the power of human interaction. We represent a platform that enables citizens to communicate and organize. We are merely a tool, albeit an important one, where with human courage and determination change can be brought about.

Human emotions embody a myriad of different opinions.  Facebook very much promotes diversity. It is for this very reason that we have chosen to not be associated with any political party or any individual political leader.  Facebook itself is not a political ideology, and our platform does not endorse one idea over another. We are a communication platform that allows people to connect without dictating how they interact or what they say. Facebook is a platform that refuses to tell its users what or what not to say.

We hope for courage and willpower to flourish via Facebook. It is for this very reason that we pay our respect to all the valiant people who helped bring down the Berlin Wall 25 years ago. It is these unwavering acts of courage against oppression and censorship which inspire us at Facebook. Further, the anniversary of the fall of the Berlin wall reminds us that freedom of speech and diversity can conquer even the greatest challenges. The former GDR existed at a time without Internet or Facebook. Even so, the people of East Germany fought for freedom.

With this came the fall of the Berlin wall - a moment that represented a critical juncture in modern history, for it reunited Europe, but also the world. It is these moments that remind us why the work we do at Facebook is so important. We too want to bring down walls and promote the very ideals that the people of former East Germany fought so hard to obtain.

 

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