Analyzing the Facebook Ban

This is an email from someone I received analyzing the Facebook situation. This email was in response to an outrage by someone at the poor people of Pakistan being repressed by their government and "it covers the points that need to be considered are necessarily technical, but the crucial aspects of this issue are subtle and often ignored, so I've tried to be succinct but thorough."


I hear you, and I think we have the same basic position, but there are
technical problems with your argument that must be mentioned.

First of all, the message sent to the rest of the world does not matter, and
neither does what the rest of the world thinks. Understand I'm not saying
this out of petulance, but to underscore the fact that democratic government
is by definition very local in terms of its mores and views and therefore
(other than some basic values like freedom of thought and expression), must
serve only its citizens without regard to what how the rest of the world
receives its actions. If that sounds simplistic, it is, but that core fact
cannot be disputed.

Secondly, contrary to opinion, censorship is common practice around the
world. The Australian government recently got into a pickle about censoring
porn and there is of course the example of holocaust denial media being
regularly censored in places like Germany where it is illegal (by the
providers, by the way - YouTube, FB, etc.). I say this not to justify
censorship but to make it clear that framing the current issue as a
developed vs developing world or church vs state issue is incorrect.

Thirdly, it is the nature of government to restrict personal freedoms. You
don't have to take my word for it, you can check with Thomas Hobbes (man
sacrifices freedoms for security) or take it up with Benjamin Franklin
('those who would give up essential blah blah'). Or you can look around and
see the UK government trying to introduce mandatory biometric identity cards
or Bush enacting the Patriot Act (and Obama failing to repeal it). I say
this not to justify the Pakistani court's action, but to state an endemic
aspect of organised government.

Fourthly, it stands to reason that given the fact of moral relativity and
the locality of values (see my first point), if we wish to impartially,
universally judge something we should examine both its intentions and the
outcomes it will lead to. In this instance, the Pakistani court was acting
on an issue raised by a few citizens who clearly considered it important;
the court ruled in accordance with law (blasphemy is illegal). The outcome
is that the freedoms of the entire nation are restricted, at least until
FB/YouTube block the offending pages for Pakistanis. This is overkill as it
infringes on the rights of other Pakistanis and sets a dangerous precedent
(borne out by the fact that YouTube has now also been blocked), and we can
therefore conclude it is wrong.

HOWEVER, it has been pointed out by many people that if this is the only way
our already-hamstrung government can keep 'silly' American cartoonists from
providing ammunition to the religious fundamentalists that the Americans
first armed and have since insisted on (unilaterally) bombing, so be it.

Moral outrage at this specific court action is fair, but I find it naive in
light of the complexity of the situation and particularly in light of the
blind eye turned to so many contributing factors. Just because people are
now seeing this on the 9 o'clock news doesn't mean it's a big deal relative
to the other things that you're not hearing about, or have chosen to
actively ignore.


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