The Death Of Free Speech: Zuckerberg Asks Governments For Instructions On “What Discourse Should Be Allowed”

I have written for years on the effort of European countries to expand their crackdown on free speech globally through restrictions on social media and Internet speech. It appears that Facebook chief executive Mark Zuckerberg has relented in what may prove the death knell for free speech in the West. Zuckerberg seems to relent in asking governments for regulations stipulating what speech will be permitted on Facebook and other platforms. It is the ultimate victory of France, Germany, and England in their continuing attack on free expression though hate speech laws and speech regulation.

Zuckerberg told an assembly of Western leaders Saturday at the Munich Security Conference that “There should be more guidance and regulation from the states on basically — take political advertising as an example — what discourse should be allowed?” He did add: “Or, on the balance of free expression and some things that people call harmful expression, where do you draw the line?” The problem is that his comments were received as accepting that government will now dictate the range of free speech. What is missing is the bright line rule long maintained by the free speech community.

As tragically demonstrated in France, Germany, and the United Kingdom, speech regulations inevitably expand with time. The desire to silence one’s critics becomes insatiable for both governments and individuals.

Zuckerberg is facing great pressure, including from Democratic leaders in the United States, to regulate political speech and he seems to be moving away from the bright-line position against such regulation as a principle. Instead, he is accepting the fluid concept of “balanced” regulations that has always preceded expanding speech codes and criminalization:

“There are a lot of decisions in these areas that are really just balances between different social values. It’s about coming up with an answer that society feels is legitimate and that they can get behind and understand that you drew the line here on the balance of free expression and safety. It’s not just that there’s one right answer. People need to feel like, ‘OK, enough people weighed in, and that’s why the answer should be this, and we can get behind that.’”

129 thoughts on “The Death Of Free Speech: Zuckerberg Asks Governments For Instructions On “What Discourse Should Be Allowed””

  1. David Benson when you were a fetus are you glad your mother considered you a living baby.

  2. Zuckerberg’s Facebook may be domiciled in the US, but unless he’s inclined to defend Facebook in every jurisdiction in the world (and he may just have shown he’s not), speech on Facebook is effectively limited to that afforded by the most restrictive jurisdiction.

    However, this could be a very clever tactic. Social media users exist everywhere not firewalled from the Global Internet, even in Earth orbit on the ISS (where some viral Instagramming happened a while back). Asking the governments which restrict their citizens’ speech most severely to tell Facebook the manner in which it is to censor their speech places this question in the public square just as effectively as a trial.

    Then, it’s up to the citizens of what are nominally democracies to read these restrictions on what they may say on Facebook and either reward their leaders with re-election or replace them with someone with more regard for civil rights.

    Unfortunately, people who believe in “rules for thee and not for me” probably like restrictions on other people’s speech just fine. I’ve noticed that Twitter isn’t absolutely impartial about enforcing “Twitter Rules” – there are people there who’ve placed my account on lists with NSFW names, or which express a desire that those of us on one of their lists die of cancer – conduct specifically forbidden in Twitter’s rules. But other people have been suspended from Twitter for a week for calling CNN’s Brian Steltzer a “flower”.

    We here on Prof. Turley’s blog accept his civility guidelines and tacitly agree with his or his admins’ decisions to drop comments which don’t conform to those guidelines (I hear people complain about those rules by people who always come back here for more).

    At the very worst, Facebook will adopt rules like Prof. Turley’s, but effectively written by Angela Merkel or Emmanuel Macron. Macron has had the temerity to appear before Congress and tell the representatives of free people to violate their civil right to express themselves freely. Unfortunately, someone hid the fence rail, boiling tar, and feathers that day.

  3. Jonathan Turley, I doubt that “inciting to riot ” has ever been considered “free speech”. As I understand the matter, this is for the several states to regulate in the USA. But in Europe it is differently done.

    No, US style “free speech” is inappropriate for Europe. Go learn about it.

    1. “Clear and Present” danger test; and Imminent Lawless Action…that’s Scheck and Brandenburg, respectively.

      If EU is part of the West, which includes US, then all the West should broaden/loosen free speech, not restrict free speech. I can’t say I know a lot of about history in Europe, but it 2020, I don’t think the old ways really matter.

      But ya know, welcome to 1984. Space Odyssey, what was the robots name in that movie….ah, it’s been so long I forgot….

    2. Speech which is protectted by the US Constitution has been restricted in the past by calling it bad names such as “inciting to riot”. That is changing; the recent appointment of someone with a record of libertarian rulings and judicial commentary to the US Supreme Court may mean the tactic of censorship under the color of law is not long for the US. Europe’s mileage may vary. That even the formerly independed Swiss are giving in to Emmanuel Macron’s Censorship World Tour is sad, indeed.

  4. Dr. Alveda King: Planned Parenthood Targets Blacks For Abortion
    – Jerry Newcombe

    Does Planned Parenthood target poor black neighborhoods? Dr. Alveda King believes the abortion mill still maintains Margret Sanger’s racist eugenics belief

    Recently, I spoke on my radio show with Evangelist Dr. Alveda King, the niece of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. She is the Director of Civil Rights for the Unborn with the organization Priests for Life. The focus was on Planned Parenthood and the African-American community.

    Her comments are relevant all year round, especially around this time of MLK day and the anniversary of the Supreme Court decision favoring abortion, Roe v. Wade (January 22, 1973).

    Dr. Alveda King told me, “The leading cause of death in the African-American community is not gang-violence, gun violence, heart attack, stroke, HIV, high blood pressure, diabetes. People will name all these. No, it’s abortion. And the reason we have come to that conclusion, statistically, you’ve got 60 million plus abortions legal in America since 1973. About a third of those occur in the African-American community. That means dead babies. And, with us being 13 percent or less of America’s population, that means we are having more abortions.”

    She asked, “Now does it mean that African-Americans are more immoral or don’t care? Absolutely not. We are just regular, everyday people like everyone else. But Planned Parenthood moved into our community with the abortion killing centers and said, ‘We’re here to help you. Let’s kill your baby so you can have a better life.’ Well, killing our babies doesn’t give us a better life. I have had my own abortions in the 1970s. They were secret then, and after I became born again in 1983 and became a pro-life voice, I began to talk about how those abortions hurt me and my family.”

    January 7, 2019

  5. Amazon likes to see itself as a cutting-edge, 21st-century growth company, always working to expedite delivery to its customers, whether by means of a drone, or eliminating queueing and bagging at its newly acquired Whole Foods stores with a new smartphone app. Beneath this high-tech sheen, however, the online retailer and tech giant engages in labor practices that provoke comparisons to a 19th-century sweatshop. The company routinely pays wages barely above the poverty line, while using intrusive surveillance systems to monitor the workforce, fence them in with elaborate rules, set target times for their warehouse journeys, and then measure whether targets were met. All of this information is made available to management in real time, and if Amazon’s “employee-athletes” fall behind schedule, they receive a Big Brother-like text message pushing them to reach their targets or suffer the consequences. Failure to do so is met with a “three strikes and release” discipline system—being a euphemism for getting sacked.

    In essence, you’ve got a $550-billion-plus global conglomerate with virtually unchecked market power and no sign that its legally advantageous position will be challenged anytime soon via vigorous anti-trust enforcement—and certainly no encouragement of unionization to combat its abusive and intrusive work practices. Companies like Amazon have been aided and abetted by a sequence of “pro-business” governments that for decades introduced harsh industrial relations legislation to reduce the trade unions’ ability to achieve wage gains for their members, while lavishing billions in tax cuts and subsidies, which deprives the region of vitally needed revenue for the provision of essential public services.

    Even before this latest municipal beauty competition, Amazon has received almost $123 million from the state of Ohio in cumulative tax breaks, plus $2.9 million in cash grants. That has been a great deal for the company, but what about the people of Ohio? A new study by Policy Matters Ohio found that more than 700 Amazon employees receive food stamps, or more than 10 percent of the tech giant’s 6,000-strong workforce in the state. That’s because the jobs provided by Amazon in exchange for these tax breaks barely pay above the $26,208 poverty line. So much for the much-vaunted “multiplier effect” supposedly created by this panoply of government largesse.

    Or consider the state of New Jersey, where Chris Christie’s last move as governor was his effort to pass legislation authorizing up to $5 billion in tax credits to Amazon, should it choose to move its second headquarters to the state. There’s a perverse symmetry to Christie’s actions, considering that one of his very first measures when he commenced his governorship was rejecting a desperately needed commuter rail tunnel that, in his view, threatened cost overruns in the range of $2-5 billion, something deemed “unacceptable” by the former governor. Ironically, Amazon listed viable public transport as a key criterion for its proposed second headquarters; one wonders whether its management team has kept abreast of the litany of commuting challenges that have arisen as a result of the rising shortfalls in funding infrastructure upgrades for the NY/NJ public transport system.

    Jeff Bezos….bad for Americans

  6. Russian Trolls Targeted Black Americans On Social Media

    The New Knowledge report gives particular attention to the Russians’ focus on African-Americans, which is evident to anyone who examines collections of their memes and messages.

    “The most prolific I.R.A. efforts on Facebook and Instagram specifically targeted black American communities and appear to have been focused on developing black audiences and recruiting black Americans as assets,” the report says. Using Gmail accounts with American-sounding names, the Russians recruited and sometimes paid unwitting American activists of all races to stage rallies and spread content, but there was a disproportionate pursuit of African-Americans, it concludes.

    The report says that while “other distinct ethnic and religious groups were the focus of one or two Facebook Pages or Instagram accounts, the black community was targeted extensively with dozens.” In some cases, Facebook ads were targeted at users who had shown interest in particular topics, including black history, the Black Panther Party and Malcolm X. The most popular of the Russian Instagram accounts was @blackstagram, with 303,663 followers.

    The Internet Research Agency also created a dozen websites disguised as African-American in origin, with names like,, and On YouTube, the largest share of Russian material covered the Black Lives Matter movement and police brutality, with channels called “Don’t Shoot” and “BlackToLive.”

    Edited From: “Russian 2016 Influence Operation Targeted African Americans On Social Media”

    The New York Times, 12/17/18

  7. Zuckerberg Acknowledges Disinformation Driven By Sophisticated Trolls

    Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg has admitted his company had been slow to understand Russian disinformation campaigns during the last US election, as he appealed to political leaders for more regulation of online content.

    Mr Zuckerberg — who was speaking at the Munich Security Conference on Saturday — struck a conciliatory tone, saying that Facebook had embarked on “significantly closer” collaboration with governments, electoral authorities and members of the intelligence community over the past four years, and was taking down more than 1m fake accounts a day. 

    Social media companies such as Facebook, Twitter and YouTube have come under pressure to improve their response to hostile states and political groups using their platforms to spread misleading information.

    Mr Zuckerberg acknowledged that disinformation was increasingly sophisticated and that he was taking the risks seriously. “In the last year we’ve seen an evolution of threats in a few big ways,” he said, emphasising that election interference was not just foreign but “increasingly domestic”, perpetrated by local actors using the same tactics as the Russians had done four years ago.

    The Facebook chief said that purveyors of disinformation were now more sophisticated at covering their tracks, deploying IP addresses which appear to be from several different countries. 

    Edited From: “Mark Zuckerberg Admits Facebook Was Slow On Russian Disinformation”

  8. Twitter has apparently locked the Wikileaks account, in advance of his upcoming extradition hearing:

    Kristinn Hrafnsson

    WikiLeaks twitter account has been locked, shortly before Assange extradition hearing. All attempts to get it reopened via regular channels have been unsuccessful. It has been impossible to reach a human at twitter to resolve the issue. Can someone fix this?

  9. OT: I didn’t think so but now I wonder:

    HEALTHSenator Cotton: China Refusing to Hand Over Evidence About Wuhan BioLab

    New report says lab was likely source of coronavirus outbreak.
    Published 1 min ago on 17 February, 2020 Paul Joseph Watson 27 Comments
    Senator Tom Cotton says that China is refusing to hand over evidence concerning the bio-safety level 4 research lab in Wuhan despite a new report from biological scientists at the South China University of Technology saying it may have been the source of the coronavirus outbreak.

    During an appearance on Fox News, Cotton told Maria Bartiromo that new evidence confirmed the source of the virus was not the meat market in Wuhan.

    “Here is what we do know. This virus did not originate in the Wuhan animal market,” said Cotton. “Epidemiologists who are widely respected from China published a study in the international journal Lancet have demonstrated that several of the original cases did NOT have any contact with that food market. The virus went into that food market before it came out of that food market. So we don’t know where it originated… We also know that only a few miles away from that market is China’s only bio-safety Level Four Super Laboratory that researches human infectious diseases.”

    continued plus video:

    1. Today, by Jennifer Rubin:

      “The descent of the GOP into authoritarian know-nothingism”

      Excerpt 1:

      “When Ivy League-educated, formerly sane politicians spew conspiracy theories, debunked talking points and contempt for science, the question often arises: Do they believe this nonsense (i.e. have they become thickheaded by listening to Rush Limbaugh and watching all that Fox News?), or are they cynical purveyors of claptrap designed to woo unsophisticated voters? (Disclosure: I am an MSNBC contributor.)

      “That query came to mind when Harvard Law school graduate Sen. Tom Cotton (R-Ark.) descended into sheer quackery and decided to perpetrate conspiracies about the origin of the coronavirus. The Post reports:

      “Sen. Tom Cotton (R-Ark.) repeated a fringe theory suggesting that the ongoing spread of a coronavirus is connected to research in the disease-ravaged epicenter of Wuhan, China.

      “Cotton referenced a laboratory in the city, the Wuhan National Biosafety Laboratory, in an interview on Fox News’s “Sunday Morning Futures.” He said the lab was near a market some scientists initially thought was a starting point for the virus’s spread.

      “This is unadulterated nonsense, one step removed from anti-vaxxer rubbish and UFO-spotting. (“In response to Cotton’s remarks, as well as in previous interviews with The Washington Post, numerous experts dismissed the possibility the coronavirus may be man-made.”)”

      Excerpt 2:

      “In some sense, know-nothingism and authoritarianism are mutually reinforcing. A dictator commandeers reality, forcing other to accept lies as truth or to eradicate the very notion of truth. Know-nothingism and contempt for “elites” mow down alternate sources of information and discredit critics as perpetrating “fake news” or “hoaxes,” thereby empowering the executive as the sole guardian of reality.

      “In all of this, the Tom Cottons and Ted Cruzes who used to fancy themselves as intellectuals and originalist scholars have chosen to simply go with the flow. Too ambitious to endanger a future in a party they imagine will be permanently deformed by Trump, and too cowardly to defy the willful ignorance of their peers, voters and political universe (including right-wing think tanks, publications and advocacy groups), they now pride themselves on their willingness to adopt non-factual conspiracy theories — no matter what the public safety or constitutional implications might be.

      “The adage that “the only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing” is not accurate. It requires enablers, rationalizers and pseudo-intellects to eradicate resistance to authoritarians and authoritarians’ war on truth.”

      1. In an earlier comment I said I didn’t believe it came from the lab. With more information I am not as sure as I previously was so I keep an open mind and wait for better information. It is pure stupidity to totally discount the possibility especially since so many questions are open. Cotton is an intelligent man that you and the Washington Post wish to demean. That is part of your nature. Intelligence is not.

    2. Alan uses this thread to post Disinformation from a fake source. If Alan followed mainstream media he would know this story is totally discredited.

      1. Peter Paint Chips, this is not disinformation. This article and video add information that is clearer today then it was in earlier days. I don’t think the MSM proved anything said was wrong. The only thing the MSM did was to close their eyes to other possibilities leaving thinking out of the equation just like you are doing. That is why you are called Paint Chips.

        We will hopefully know more in the future and hopefully your lead count will fall.

          1. Paint Chips, I think Trump is negotiating. I know this is a difficult concept to you but China is a power and a power in the future. “keep your friends close and your enemies closer”. No matter what way Trump turns the words positive or negative I don’t think that will have an effect on the virus so it is a choice. Trump is not stupid but sometimes one has to think three dimentionally so in this case I can’t say what is in his mind. Is Trump a fool about the Coronavirus? Absolutely not even though I think a lot of blame should be on China for what seems to be a slow reaction to the problem and the way they have kept things hidden. I can say that because what I say doesn’t make a difference.

  10. Mister Gorbachev: Tear down that wall!

    And he did. Now all of Europe needs a wall to keep out the terrorists. Britain was smart to pull out. But if you say to someone: pull out now, like your father should have, it suggests that you should not have been born. But, it’s all free speech. Zuckerburg should pull out of the EU.
    It has no room for a pile of sugar.

  11. – Social media are information roadways which constitute general Welfare and must be taxed for and operated by Congress, if necessary, due to the lack of effective competition for a reasonable period of time.

    – Social media, with a demonstrable dearth of competition resulting in a monopoly and “dictatorship,” must be regulated by a Public Utilities Commission which, in turn, must ensure the implementation of constitutional rights and freedoms.

    – For the public good, Congress must “take” and operate the private property media enterprises under its power of Eminent Domain.

  12. One day, if globalism does not win, these precedents set by their advocates about fact checking and so forth will be used against them. So let it come. Let the battle begin. Quit trying to hold back the day.

    1. Or “sugar fort”. “A Mighty Fortress is Our God”, in the original German, is “Ein Feste Burg ist Unser Gott”.

  13. The people doing the balancing always get to put their thumb on the scale.


    This is the Democratic Party.

    It’s also an indication that the ranks of this nation’s post-baccalaureate students are increasingly occupied by malicious and emotionally-damaged persons, who in turn are recruited for faculty positions. The administration at UMass Amherst and elements of the legal system give succor to these malicious and emotionally-damaged individuals. This will not end well.

    1. I posted the same article on an earlier thread and think it is a great article especially since it is written by the attornies of the victim. I don’t think our friends on the left give a dam-.

  15. Turley Presumes Readers Are Not Familiar With Controversy 

    Consumers of rightwing media may not be hip to the real issue here.  For weeks Facebook has been the subject of news stories regarding Mr Zuckerberg’s decision to ‘not’ fact-check political ads on the social media site.  Mr Zuckerberg has argued that fact-checking could be burdensome to his company and lead to free speech issues, as Professor Turley argues.

    But journalists and political pundits have argued that by ‘not’ fact-checking political content, Facebook opens the door to wholesale disinformation campaigns that will surely be exploited.  It is widely documented that political disinformation was all too common on Facebook in 2016 and may have factored in that election’s outcome.

    Curiously Professor Turley makes no effort here to fully explore this controversy.  Instead he conveys the impression this is strictly a free speech issue.

    1. the controversy is over-wrought. the truth and falsity of political speech is less verifiable than people in your circles are being lead to believe. you’re being fed this stuff as a trojan horse Seth

      yes, American “conservatives” are more loathe to censor political speech. there is no equivalency here.

      the silver lining on this censorship trend, is that the tools will cut both ways, eventually. so your “free speech” one day may find itself pruned, too

      1. When, after a strong popular reaction against progressive overreach, a GOP Congress enables 21st century Anthony Comstocks to restrict free speech in the way the post-1996 Republican Congress tried to do, I’m sure that the people who want to censor our speech now will weep the loudest over our lost freedoms.

        I’m a Libertarian. A Pox on Both Congress’ Houses.

    2. Turley is right. It is a free speech issue – an issue that dominates other concerns for exactly the reasons Turley has promulgated. Apparently, you and many others do not understand what is freedom or, perhaps, don’t really value it. Once the shoe is on the other foot, I guess you will be screaming loud enough to remove what you advocate for now.

    3. It is a free speech issue. Facebook is like the owner of bill boards. Should that owner be responsible for ferreting out the “truth” of what their advertisers say?

    4. “But journalists and political pundits have argued that by ‘not’ fact-checking political content, … opens the door to wholesale disinformation campaigns that will surely be exploited.

      Paint Chips is correct and we have seen the Washington Post disinformation campaign for the past 3 years. Peter Paint Chips is only interested when the disinformation doesn’t conform to his fascist agenda.

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