A few short years ago, the idea of banning certain forms of speech in the United States was something that, if mentioned — few would’ve taken seriously at the time. Today, however — the opposite seems to be true. Freedom of speech is protected under the First Amendment, but the Founding Fathers were certainly unaware of a new beast that would arise only a few short decades ago — the internet. The internet was born, and its child, social media — is causing chaos in our democracy.
Tech giants like Twitter and Facebook have been prevalent in the news lately with their aggressive approach toward banning certain accounts deemed to be “dangerous.” Last week, Facebook banned Alex Jones, Milo Yiannopoulos, Laura Loomer, Paul Joseph Watson, Louis Farrakhan and Paul Nehlen.
This group of seven have two important things in common — they all say nasty things, and they all have yet to directly incite violence. The defense of these individuals having the right to merely voice their opinions is not a defense of these individuals as people, nor the things they say. No matter how disgusting the speech, it remains protected under the First Amendment so long as it is not a call to action.
The most common example of this is usually the “fire in a crowded movie theater” example. In this exemption from free speech, it criminalizes an action such as yelling “fire” in a crowded movie theatre as a hoax, thus causing chaos which can lead to physical harm of others. Nonetheless, it is certainly still legal to yell “fire” in a crowded movie theater, in the event that there is an actual fire.
On top of this, you’re also not allowed to issue threats. For example, saying “I am going to kill you” to another person is not an exercise of free speech, it is a crime. Using the call to action example, saying “I will pay $500 for someone to kill this person” is also a crime.
Free speech has its exceptions, yet none of the users above have been banned for any of those reasons.
In fact, Facebook can’t definitively explain why the group was banned past labeling them “dangerous” by their standards.
Hateful speech is a problem, and it is a problem that we will always have in a free society. Just like with the Second Amendment, there are downsides to the First Amendment. We have guns that end up in the hands of unfortunate people who use them for crimes, and we have unfortunate people in society who say evil, hateful and disgusting things. As unpleasant as they are, none of us should want to see them de-platformed and/or criminalized merely for their words.
That last sentence may come as a great shock to some of you, but you may have a different opinion when you break it down. For example, what happens to say — a racist or a bigot in 2019? What happens to someone who posts slanderous material on social media, or spews a racist tirade in public? These people are often fired from their jobs, bombarded with vicious comments and disgraced entirely from society. They often retreat from the internet and public entirely and go into hiding. Their identities forever captured and attached to that content — a more than fair punishment, many would argue.
But why does that make us want to silence and/or criminalize that person? Part of freedom of speech is hearing ideas and voices that you do not like and exercising your own freedoms by responding accordingly. How free can a country be when you only allow the information that you approve of to be heard? Again, the First Amendment is not perfect — but the good that comes from being able to speak freely far outweighs the bad.
All tech giants have block/report buttons to either mute undesired users on the platform or report targeted harassment and/or threats — but Facebook and Twitter have taken it leaps and bounds further in what is seemingly a liberal-biased political stunt.
The reason that this wave of censorship on social media platforms seems as if it’s liberal biased is because the Silicon Valley tech giants have admitted that it is. Both Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg and Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey have admitted that their companies will tend to have a left-leaning bias. In no coincidence, the companies are targeting almost entirely conservatives, while they have yet to ban a relevant leftist from their platforms — even some who have made direct threats.
After the Covington Catholic High School kids controversy, before it was deemed to be a complete hoax — Disney’s “Beauty and the Beast” producer Jack Morrissey tweeted “#MAGAkids go screaming, hats first, into the woodchipper” with a cartoon attached of a man shoving a person into a woodchipper, and blood spraying out of it. Twitter made Morrissey delete the tweet, though his account remains active today. Twitter also currently bans the entire list as Facebook with the exception of Paul Joseph Watson.
Social media platforms are private companies, and yes — they can generally do whatever they want. However, these tech giants benefit greatly from the federal government. They enjoy luxurious tax breaks and exemption from litigation due to their listing as a “platform.”
On top of this, they are awarded a number of federal contracts every year. All of these are privileges to the companies that benefit them, and they can be taken away. In the age where everyone gets their information from their cell phones, social media has become highly influential in elections.
So influential, that politicians now pay massive amounts of money to the social networks to run paid campaign ads on their platforms. Unarguably, this certainly impacts the outcome of our elections. In a world where social media has grown to the point of no control, it is to the point where the political bias of one or two companies could potentially sway the entire outcome of a national election.
If Facebook and Twitter do not want to comply with U.S. law and/or abide by the standards of the Constitution, why should they be awarded federal contracts funded by taxpayer dollars? Why should they receive lucrative tax breaks?
If they are platforms, they are merely the host and therefore should not be held accountable for harmful and illegal content that is posted. But, when they take their standards a step further than what is allowed under the First Amendment and begin to only allow certain content to be published, they become an editor.
With that being said, why should they then have congressional legislation protecting them from lawsuits? Yep, they have this perk as well. If they are controlling the content, they should be able to be held liable for the content that is published.
Furthermore, these companies are awarded federal contracts that are funded by taxpayer dollars on top of their tax breaks.
To put this into perspective, they are theoretically able to receive government contracts paid for by an unlimited number of taxpayers that they decide to ban at their own standards — standards that do not comply with our First Amendment, and therefore our law. There are ways to get the billionaire social media giants better under control, and someone in Washington needs to do something about it.
Bobby Harr is the owner/editor-in-chief of The Daily Noble. Bobby has worked in direct consumer sales for years while writing columns for local newspapers. He has been featured in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette and the Tribune Review.
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