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Guest Commentary / Oct. 29, 2020

Social Media Giants Have a Giant Censorship Problem

They are using their immense power to suppress the arguments of one political side and promote the arguments of another.

By Jeff Brain

Social media censorship is destroying civil discourse and threatening our fundamental rights. It needs to be reined in, but with a focus on combating censorship by the worst offenders and not changing the free-market nature of the entire social media universe.

Free speech is a critical component of a free society, which is why tyrants throughout the ages have sought to stamp it out. Yet for perhaps the first time in human history, the threat to this most fundamental freedom comes not from a totalitarian regime or a corrupt religious institution but from private entities.

On Wednesday, the CEOs of Twitter, Facebook, and Google testified before Congress about Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act, which provides social media companies legal protections from liability for the comments and/or actions of those who use their platforms.

The crux of the argument on which these protections rest is that these entities are supposed to be objective moderators of discourse who merely provide a space for interaction between users. They have clearly abandoned this mission and should therefore forfeit their liability protections.

After a series of bombshell revelations about Democrat presidential candidate Joe Biden’s son Hunter were published in the New York Post and The National Pulse, Big Tech companies like Facebook and Twitter engaged in a systematic and shamelessly transparent campaign to suppress discussion of the news, even going as far as removing people’s posts sharing the article. But this was just the latest instance of a worrying and dangerous trend.

Over the past few months we’ve witnessed these social media giants remove videos of doctors discussing potential COVID treatments, put bogus warning labels on news stories questioning the lockdowns, and routinely suspend or ban the accounts of those who question certain orthodoxies.

Social media is our modern-day town square. There are many serious challenges facing today’s society and the world. Big Tech social media is deciding what topics and sides are allowed to be discussed.

Social media platforms drive public opinion, shaping the policy decisions in communities as well as Washington. These policies have far-reaching consequences. I believe there must be a place where people can openly and freely express their ideas on the issues they care about. 

In reality, they are using their immense power to suppress the arguments of one political side and promote the arguments of another. They are not acting as objective, unbiased moderators of debate. They have chosen a side and are doing whatever they can to help that side win, and in doing so silencing and othering the opposition. This is fuel poured directly on the fire of social disunity.

The biased behavior of tech giants like Facebook and Twitter is not only ethically wrong and socially damaging but it also clearly violates the law and the spirit of Section 230.

Regardless of the intricacies of U.S. communications legislation, more speech — not less — is always good for society. No opinion, let alone factual news story, should be too controversial or too offensive to share.

But while the threat posed by the Big Tech social media censors is obvious to anyone who doesn’t approve of their blatant biased behavior, the solution to that threat might not be as clear. While it’s tempting to call for the government to straighten out these bad actors, doing so could set a dangerous precedent.

Permitting the government to control the means of social communication and debate would be just as dangerous as letting unaccountable private entities do the same. The answer is competition; the emergence of new platforms truly dedicated to free speech and run by individuals who truly value it.

Thankfully, we are already seeing such a challenge to the censorship-friendly status quo in the form of platforms like Parler and CloutHub. This new, free-speech-friendly generation of social media platforms knows that the general public can figure out for itself what’s right or wrong, what’s true or what’s false. They know that we the people have a right to hear all sides and a right to decide what we believe and support.

Yes, people can be silly and say things that are stupid, offensive, or even morally wrong. But that’s the price of free speech. It is a small price to pay for free expression, free thought, and a free society.

Jeff Brain is founder and CEO of CloutHub, a social network for meaningful civic, social, and political networking and engagement.

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