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FB oversight board member says free speech “is not an absolute human right”

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A member of Facebook’s Oversight Board said that freedom of expression is not an “absolute right,” arguing it has to be balanced against other freedoms.

The Oversight Board was set up over a year ago to act as some kind of Supreme Court for Facebook’s content moderation decisions. However, critics argue it was created so that Facebook executives can distance themselves from politically sensitive content moderation decisions.

The board reviews some of the most controversial decisions made by Facebook, such as the indefinite suspension of Former President Trump following Jan 6. While it did uphold the suspension of Trump’s account, it criticized the indefinite suspension and gave Facebook six months to decide whether to permanently ban Trump or reinstate his account.

A member of the Oversight Board, Helle Thorning Schimdt, a former Danish prime minister, said “free speech is not an absolute human right,” during an event held by Politico Europe on Thursday.

She added: “It has to be balanced against other human rights.”

Her remarks are controversial, particularly as Schimdt is taking a more European perspective towards free expression and, in Europe, free speech has unfortunately not traditionally been well-regarded and it clashes with the more liberty-driven approach in the US.

In EU countries there is also a “right to be forgotten” where people, including violent criminals, can have all content about them hidden from the internet, including on search and news articles.

In a lawsuit filed last week by President Trump against Big Tech platforms, his lawyer argued that the First Amendment should apply to Facebook because it has censored content on behalf of the government, a claim that has been rejected by courts in the past but could change after this week’s admission that the Biden administration has been directing Facebook to censor.

The White House made the argument stronger when it admitted that the Biden administration was “flagging problematic posts for Facebook that spread disinformation,” especially about the pandemic.

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