Jillian C. York

Jillian C. York is a writer and activist.

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3 Ways Mark Zuckerberg is Completely, Hopelessly, Wrong

I’m a week late to this, but I was just reading Mark Zuckerberg’s personal announcement of changes to Facebook’s Community Standards and the release of a new government requests report. Read it in its entirety; it’s a real treat and a key to understanding the warped bubble that is Silicon Valley.

It’s also rather long, so instead of going line-by-line, I’m going to pick apart the pieces I find the most troubling, starting with:

As difficult questions arise about the limits of what people can share, we have a single guiding principle:
We want to give the most voice to the most people.
Having a voice is not some absolute state. It’s not the case that you either have a voice or you don’t. It’s not black and white. When you have access to the internet, you have more voice. When you have better tools for sharing, you have more voice. When you have fewer laws limiting your speech, you have more voice. When you do not live in fear of social isolation or violence if you express yourself, you have more voice.

There’s nothing particularly troubling about this by itself, but as it’s the philosophy that underpins all of Facebook’s policy decisions, it’s an important read. If your aim is to provide the most voice (whatever that means) to the most diverse set of people (the world), then of course you’re not going to stand for free expression, because some people—in nearly every place on earth—won’t want to use a service that allows for that level of openness. Since Facebook’s bottom line is money, Facebook knows why this is important.

Included amongst the things Zuckerberg sees as helping provide a voice to all people are “protecting you from bullying and harassment, so you feel safe expressing yourself” and “pushing back on illegal government requests to censor you and restrict your expression” (bold is mine).

So let’s talk about that latter one. It’s notable that Zuckerberg wrote illegal government requests. As it stands, Facebook is pretty damn compliant with government requests, whether or not they have an obligation to comply in a given jurisdiction. That is to say, while Facebook is indeed legally obligated to comply in a country where it has an office, such as France or Brazil, it’s really not obligated to do so in Pakistan, Russia, or Turkey, where it does not. And yet, it does comply, considerably: Between July and December of 2014, Facebook took down 3,624 pieces of content in Turkey; and 55 and 54 in Pakistan and Russia, respectively.

In other words, one could argue that Facebook isn’t doing a whole lot to give Turks a voice.

Ah, but Zuck disagrees. He says:

Some people say we should ignore government orders requiring us to restrict people’s voice, even if that means the whole service would be blocked in those countries. I don’t think that’s right. I believe we have a responsibility to the millions of people in these countries who rely on Facebook to stay in touch with their friends and family every day.

Ha, some people.

Anyway, what Zuckerberg is essentially saying here is that it’s more important that Turks have access to Facebook than that Facebook stand up to absurd, outdated, draconian Turkish laws—that every Turk I’ve ever met thinks are ridiculous—and in turn, stand up for free speech. And then he veers into the absurd:

If we ignored a lawful government order and then we were blocked, all of these people’s voices would be muted, and whatever content the government believed was illegal would be blocked anyway. This is a matter of giving the most voice to the most people.

If Facebook got blocked in Turkey, all of those poor Turks’ voices would be muted, oh my! What Zuckerberg is forgetting here, in all his arrogance, is that Facebook isn’t the Internet. Even if he wants it to be.

Then, he says:

Others argue that Facebook getting blocked might result in less voice for people in the short run but a country changing its laws over time. Unfortunately, there are few, if any, examples of a company withdrawing from a country leading to a change in laws restricting expression. On the other hand, there are many examples of how enabling people to connect and share helps make things better in a society.

I’ve argued that too. And he is right that there are few examples of companies withdrawing from a country and that resulting in a change to laws restricting expression. But Zuckerberg is conflating withdrawal from a country—that is, the physical withdrawal of employees and servers, and the closure of an office—with merely not complying where one is not legally obligated to do so. See, Facebook was never required to comply in Pakistan, or Turkey, or Russia. And had it not complied when those first requests rolled in, they may never have escalated, and Facebook may or may not have gotten blocked. And had it been blocked, protests may have occurred (as they did in Tunisia in 2008), and the government may have ended up pulling back, sooner or later. But it did comply, and as a result, the requests keep coming.

It’s kind of incredible to me that the CEO of Facebook doesn’t understand this crucial difference.

Finally—and this one really gets me—Zuckerberg demonstrates the principles of cultural relativism:

We also need to recognize the different legal and cultural environments in which we operate. Every country has laws limiting certain expression, and these are often shaped by culture and history. For example, Holocaust denial is prohibited in Germany. Content that defames Atatürk is illegal in Turkey. In many Muslim countries, content regarded as blasphemous is banned as well.

You can recognize different legal and cultural environments without respecting them. For what it’s worth, I think Germany’s laws (which are more specific than “Holocaust denial”) are about as useless as Turkey’s on this, but Facebook does have offices here. Nevertheless, Zuckerberg appears to look at the world and its various laws, see them, and accept them as “cultural difference.” Nevermind that Turkey, Russia, and Pakistan are barely hanging on as democracies. Nevermind that the people of those countries might have different priorities than their governments. Quite a change from his post-”Arab Spring” rhetoric, eh?

Rappers on ‘Blurred Lines’

Sometimes when you haven’t blogged for awhile, you just have to pick something and get on with it. So, here are some rappers’ views on the ‘Blurred Lines’ verdict (which, if you’re not familiar, was explained excellently by my colleague Parker Higgins). Presented without comment.

Snoop:

I have mixed emotions because, you know, I love the sound of Mr. Marvin Gaye and I love the sound of Pharrell Williams and it’s delicate because I don’t know what happened. I wasn’t in the studio when he created the song. I know that I worked with Pharrell and he’s a very original and creative guy and whenever I worked with him he never listened to old music. We always made fresh music. I don’t know how to say what’s right, but I do know that I love and appreciate both artists and both musicians and I just love music.

T.I.:

And I don’t think that it takes away or diminishes any greatness. It nods to the fact that we are all human, no matter how great we are or how great our lineage are or how impeccable a bloodline we may come from, we all get it wrong at some point in time. And you know, I think this is one of those cases. Any kind of art, creative-based business, it draws from inspiration and inspiration is intangible. You cannot say what was inspired by something and if it should or should not have been inspired by something.

RZA:

Art is something that’s made to inspire the future. If you utilize somebody’s artistic expression blatantly, to [the point] where it’s an identifiable thing, then there should be some sort of compensation to the person who inspires you

There should be a statute of limitations, because if I sample [Bing Crosby’s “White Christmas”] going, “I-I-I-I’m dream-dream-dream-dream-dream-ing / I-I-I’m dream-dream-dream-dream-dream-ing / Yo but she’s so fine, I keep dreaming about her/can’t go another day of living without her”—my song’s context and movement is totally different than what his song is about. Even though I use his portion as an instrument—because the sampler is an instrument—he should not be able to come in and take 100 percent of my song. The most he should get is 50 percent. There should be a cut off. Fifty percent is the most.

The Greeks could come sue everybody because one generation teaches the other. When you hear an A chord to the D to the E, there are over one million songs with that same progression. And each one of their songs is identified as their own. The point being that art will continue to inspire the next generation, and we will find duplication.

New for 2015: How to Help Syrian (and Iraqi) Refugees

Two years ago, I wrote a post about how you can help Syrian refugees. While I stand by the information in that post, I decided to write a fresh one that includes newer organizations. This post also includes some repeats from the last. Many thanks to Lina Sergie Attar and Sima Diab for their help.

As I explained last time, I’ve highlighted organizations that are 501(c)(3) US-based nonprofits and receive high marks from GuideStar and Charity Navigator, with a couple of notable exceptions.

Suggestions are in no particular order:

  • Save the Children is an internationally known organization (95.01/100 on Charity Navigator) and 501(c)(3) nonprofit that currently maintains a Syrian children in crisis fund. Their program is unique in that they’re working to create “child-friendly spaces” to give children in refugee communities ” a safe space to play and get support while keeping their minds off the harsh reality they are facing.”  This is important in that psychological help is as needed in a crisis as medical and other care.  Guidestar also ranks Save the Children highly, with a Gold-level mark in the Exchange.
  • The Syrian American Medical Society Foundation received a Silver ranking from Guidestar‘s Exchange and is not yet ranked on Charity Navigator (which requires 7 years of IRS filings). The organization has local programs in Lebanon and southern Syria. Their own annual report states that only 1% of donations went toward overhead costs in 2013.
  • Basmeh & Zeitooneh is unranked because it’s not a US charity, but Syrian and Lebanese friends speak highly of it. The aid group, based in Lebanon, works primarily with Syrian refugees in Lebanon, providing them with psychosocial support, food, clothing, and other needs. You can donate to their current campaign here. They also run a women’s workshop.
  • The Middle East Children’s Alliance is a California-based nonprofit that works locally and internationally, and is currently running a campaign to support children and families in Gaza and Syria during the winter. They score a 70.79/100 by Charity Navigator, likely due to their high fundraising expenses (they send glossy materials out to even small donors). Their financials are a bit outdated on Guidestar.
  • Relief and Reconciliation is a charity that runs a Peace Centre in northern Lebanon aiming to “help people of all faiths … to exit violence and to find a better future.” As they are not a US nonprofit, they are unranked by Guidestar and Charity Navigator, but their About page boasts some impressive credentials!
  • The UNHCR, the United Nations’ refugee agency, has a special fund for refugees, with clear indications of what support of different amounts can provide (for example, “$200 can provide blankets for 20 families”).  Donations through that page go through USA for UNHCR, which is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit and is ranked 70.90/100 by Charity Navigator.  Part of the reason for their lower ranking is that they spend more than 20% of their funds on fundraising, which usually means a lot of paper (and it’s true: I do receive a lot of mailings from UNHCR generally).  You can review their financials through Charity Navigator or GuideStar.
  • Syrianorphans.org is a small organization that received 501(c)(3) status in 2013, after I wrote this post. Though it does not yet have its financial reports up (GuideStar), the charity claims that it does not use any donations to support overhead costs, ensuring that donations are used entirely to support Syrians.
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