The Associated Press’ recent story that a former Nazi commander has been living in Northeast Minneapolis has had a surprising and perhaps ironic consequence: a reminder that Facebook is not a forum for free speech.
The Facebook page in question is Old Minneapolis, which features photographs of, well, old Minneapolis. Its operator, Jesse Jamison, reports Facebook shut him down for 12 hours this weekend after he reposted information including a photograph from WCCO-TV identifying the location of the alleged Nazi commander’s Northeast Minneapolis home.
In Jamison’s words, complaints to Facebook were “flooding in,” and Facebook responded by banning the page for a half-day and sending this message referring him to Facebook’s “Community Standards”:
Here are the Community Standards. It’s unclear which could have been violated. Was the reposting from mainstream media somehow a “threat” as defined by Facebook, or maybe a publication of “personal information of others without their consent”? Could Facebook really characterize publication of information regarding an alleged Nazi’s home as “hate speech”?
The incident is a graphic reminder that while Facebook comes free of charge, it is not a public forum for freedom-of-speech purposes. Because Facebook is privately owned, it is not a “state actor” for First Amendment purposes and the operators can ban whomever they want for whatever reason they want.
Indeed, Jamison also writes a Facebook user “was also blocked just for defending the page, and he didn’t use strong or threatening language. The person that reported him has been banned permanently, and so have a few others that were using threatening language.”