January 16, 2024

In Brief: Do Social Media Platforms Own Your Posts, or Do You?

It may be the most fundamental question regarding Big Tech censorship of users’ free speech.

There are few bigger threats to American Liberty than the suppression of free speech by Big Tech platforms. We here in our humble shop continue to battle bogus “fact-checks” and absurd “hate” strikes as the biggest platform, Facebook, aims to throttle our reach to more than 750,000 followers. We are but one example of conservative people or organizations facing censorship based solely on our political views.

Wesley Hodges of The Heritage Foundation brings it back to the fundamental question: Who owns your social media posts?

If you were barred from the road you take to work, would you care? Thankfully, those who pave our roads aren’t picking and choosing who uses them, but the same cannot be said of Big Tech. Social media’s expansion into our everyday lives has succeeded in replacing asphalt for algorithm, yet social media platforms are regularly blocking people’s access to the information superhighway by blocking what people can post as well as others’ access to those posts. Every year that our public conversations and debates become more digital, protecting speech online becomes more important.

Under the misleading guise of “content moderation,” social media platforms have engineered a pattern of biased censorship against conservatives. There are obvious examples like Facebook removing satirical Babylon Bee posts or Twitter locking the New York Post’s account for breaking the Hunter Biden laptop story.

Just as perilous are the more hidden manipulations between the users and content, where algorithms and human moderators can shadow ban “undesirable” persons and statements, suppressing others from viewing the content without notifying the authors. Last year’s “Twitter Files” release provided damning evidence of the platform using “visibility filtering” (the company’s code for shadow banning) to punish popular but institutionally disfavored accounts like Libs of TikTok.

Regardless of its form, Big Tech’s prolonged addiction to censorship reveals a market failure.

Yes, Hodges says Elon Musk rescued Twitter (now X), but the same thing probably won’t be repeated with other platforms, and smaller competitors are largely sidelined.

Thankfully, Texas and Florida had their eyes wide open. These states passed first-of-their-kind laws to establish their citizens’ right to speak online over Big Tech’s right to censor. Texas focused directly on preventing social media bans over political viewpoints. Florida required platforms to publish their censorship rules and to give their users proper notice of changes to those policies, while also giving political candidates immunity from censorship during their campaigns.

Predictably, Big Tech sued, and the Supreme Court will hear arguments next month. He says, “The court limited the case to only two questions.”

  1. Do the laws’ restrictions on Big Tech’s censorship of posts comply with the First Amendment?

  2. Do the laws’ requirements that social media companies provide an explanation for each instance of censorship comply with the First Amendment?

Perhaps the most important assumption in these questions that could decide this case is, whose speech is whose on social media? When Grandma posts on Facebook, does the statement belong to her as the author or to the website as a publisher whose algorithm inserted it into your feed? [Big Tech] argues that Grandma’s story belongs to Facebook and, therefore, Facebook receives First Amendment rights for choosing to feature or censor her comments through its editorial discretion.

If, however, “social media websites can claim your speech as their own to protect their right to censor, these companies are hypocrites every time they invoke what is called Section 230 to protect themselves. This is a 1996 statute meant to shield nascent online platforms from the liabilities of being a publisher.”

Big Tech is telling us that they deserve to have it both ways — that posts on social media are simultaneously the platforms’ (to benefit from First Amendment protections) and not the platforms’ (to benefit from Section 230 protections).

If no other institution, logic, or physical law of the universe has this sort of bold inconsistency, I am skeptical of Big Tech’s entitlement to it. Only last year, Google was in the Supreme Court arguing that YouTube’s targeted recommendations to users were not editorial speech and, therefore, merited Section 230 protections, contradicting this year’s … legal arguments.

Here’s hoping the Supreme Court settles this question in favor of the free speech rights of the American people.

Read the whole thing here.

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