We've talked in the past about NY Times columnist Nick Kristof, who is a bit infamous for having something of a savior complex in his views. He is especially big on moral panics around sex trafficking, and was one of the most vocal proponents of FOSTA, despite not understanding what the law would do at all (spoiler alert: just as we predicted, and as Kristof insisted would not happen -- FOSTA has put more women at risk). When pushing for FOSTA, Kristof wrote the following:
Even if Google were right that ending the immunity for Backpage might lead to an occasional frivolous lawsuit, life requires some balancing.
For example, websites must try to remove copyrighted material if it’s posted on their sites. That’s a constraint on internet freedom that makes sense, and it hasn’t proved a slippery slope. If we’re willing to protect copyrights, shouldn’t we do as much to protect children sold for sex?
As we noted at the time, this was an astoundingly ignorant thing to say, but of course now that Kristof helped get the law passed and put many more lives at risk, the "meh, no big deal if there are some more lawsuits or more censorship" attitude seems to be coming back to bite him.
You see, last week, Kristof weighed in on US policy in Yemen. The core of his argument was to discuss the horrific situation of Abrar Ibrahim, a 12-year-old girl who is starving in Yemen, and weighs just 28 pounds. There's a giant photo of the emaciated Ibrahim atop the article, wearing just a diaper. It packs an emotional punch, just as intended.
But, it turns out that Facebook is blocking that photo of Ibrahim, claiming it is "nudity and sexual content." And, boy, is Kristof mad about it:
Facebook seems to have repeatedly blocked the photo of Abrar that went with my column: https://t.co/KYTyJ1kTeE Come on, Facebook! If you want to end these horrifying images of starving children in Yemen, then help end the U.S.-backed Saudi war that causes the starvation. https://t.co/EzJemsGN4j
— Nicholas Kristof (@NickKristof) December 16, 2018
Hey, Nick, you were the one who insisted that Facebook and others in Silicon Valley needed to ban "sexual content" or face criminal liability. You were the one who insisted that any collateral damage would be minor. You were the one who said there was no slippery slope.
Yet, here is a perfect example of why clueless saviors like Kristof always make things worse, freaking out about something they don't understand, prescribing the exact wrong solution. Moderating billions of pieces of content leads to lots of mistakes. The only way you can do it is to set rules. Thanks to laws like FOSTA -- again, passed at Kristof's direct urging -- Facebook has rules about nudity that include no female nudity/nipples. This rule made a lot of news two years ago when Facebook banned an iconic photo from the Vietnam War showing a young, naked, girl fleeing a napalm attack. Facebook eventually created a "newsworthy" exception to the rule, but that depends on the thousands of "content moderators" viewing this content knowing that this particular photo is newsworthy.
And, thanks to FOSTA, the cost of making a mistake is ridiculously high (possible criminal penalties), and thus, the only sane thing for a company like Facebook to do is to take that content down and block it. That's exactly what Nick Kristof wanted. But now he's whining because the collateral damage he shrugged off a year ago is himself. Yeah, maybe next time Nick should think about that before shrugging off what every single internet expert tried to explain to him at the time.
But hey, Nick, as someone once said, maybe the law you pushed for leads to an occasional frivolous takedown of important content about the impact of US policy on an entire population, but "life requires some balancing." Oh well.