Something very bizarre happened on Facebook recently.
On Saturday (April 16), Christian Author John Dickson put up a post questioning the approach of some same-sex marriage advocates to the marriage debate.
Facebook didn’t like the post, so that evening, FB took it down. John was given no warning, just the following explanation from FB:
We removed the post below because it doesn’t follow the Facebook Community Standards.
Just how bad was the post? Did it vilify? Was it a hate-filled homophobic diatribe?
Judge for yourself: you can read it here on John’s wall (it was eventually reinstated).
What did you think?
Whether or not you agree with John’s point, his underlying concern is for the health and wellbeing of LGBTI youth: he wants to spare them potential harm arising from the rhetoric of (some) same-sex marriage advocates.
And (as far as I can tell) he argues for this in a respectful way.
As it turns out, Facebook did end up reinstating John’s post, with an apology (but at the time of writing, no explanation apart from ‘it was a mistake’).
But it took the personal intervention of the former Human Rights Commissioner, Tim Wilson, to have the post reinstated.
It’s a bizarre episode in the life of this Social Network. So what are we to make of it all?
1) It’s Not a Legal Freedom of Speech Issue
Facebook isn’t the government.
We need to be careful not to see this as a classic freedom of speech issue. It wasn’t the government demanding this post be removed: it was Facebook, a non-governmental company. It’s their social network, and like any company/organisation, they’ve got a right to determine what’s allowed’s allowed to be said on their network, and what’s not.
2) But Facebook is Part of the Public Square
Facebook erodes our culture of free speech if it censors these discussions.
Let’s face it: Facebook is the public square (or at least a significant part of it). Many people have all sorts of meaningful political discussions online. And so for Facebook to limit such discussions effectively limits what can and can’t be said in the public square.
3) Facebook’s Censorship Is a Sign of What’s Happening In the Wider Culture
Many pro-SSM advocates want to censor traditional marriage advocates.
Although pro-SSM advocates assert that the majority of Australian opinion is on their side, many don’t want a plebiscite, allegedly for fear of the negative things that could be said about LGBTI people.
Paul Martin, writing in The Guardian, puts it this way:
The problem with the public debate leading up to the plebiscite is that it brings out a plethora of negative messages, usually spearheaded by people in positions of trust and leadership.’
In his article, Martin doesn’t call for a respectful debate: instead, he demands there be no debate at all. And that seems to be a growing call among many pro-SSM advocates.
However, as John Dickson points out in his now-reinstated post:
It is true that demeaning insults were once part of the stock language against the LGBTI community in the public square..But I haven’t seen many demeaning insults directed at the LGBTI community in the public square in the last few years.’
Whether on The Project or ABC’s Q&A, it seems that all (or most) of the intemperate language and spiteful tone comes from advocates of gay marriage, while defenders of classical marriage—even if they are wrong and loopy—seem to have learned to engage in this contest of ideas with respect and civility.’ [emphasis added].
Furthermore, calling for there to be no debate on a public policy issue like marriage is quite troubling:
4) A Free Society Assumes Voters Have the Right to Speak about Political Issues
Free and fair voting requires public discussion.
Let’s be clear: the topic of the marriage debate is whether a law (i.e. the Federal Marriage Act) should be redefined or not. That’s a bonafide public and political issue. It’s a legitimate concern of the citizens of this country.
But the idea that citizens shouldn’t be allowed to publicly discuss/debate this is a serious problem for our democracy: our democracy is built on the very idea of people discussing political issues; making up their own minds about those issues, and voting accordingly.
Doesn’t the pro-SSM camp believe in democracy?
5) Questioning Secular Sacred Cows Won’t Win You Many Friends
It’s a recipe for marginalisation (even if you do it respectfully).
Whether it’s on Facebook or QandA, the point is clear: merely questioning secular sacred cows (no matter how reasonably or compassionately it’s done) may well lead to being censored, and vilified.
But here’s the thing:
6) Christian Love of Neighbour Will Sometimes Mean Questioning Sacred Cows
It’s great we’ve got the privilege to raise questions about societal issues. But it’s also a responsibility: the fruit of the gospel will mean speaking up lovingly, and truthfully, about issues that impact our neighbour. Just as John Dickson has done.
Even when the consequences aren’t particularly to our liking.
As a citizen, how do you feel asking questions about controversial political topics? (Feel free to comment below).