CON: Trump Twitter ban exposes lack of accountability for private firms
On Jan. 8, 12 days before the end of his presidency, now former President Donald Trump was removed from social media platform Twitter for an apparent breach of the company’s terms of service.
This was made following the controversial protest on Jan. 6 that led to a breach of the Capitol and, eventually, violence. Twitter’s ban on Trump led to much controversy as many people felt the language of the ban was unclear and undeserved.
Following this ban, social media platforms such as Twitter and Instagram began banning other users. App stores and internet service providers even banned entire social media platforms.
The platform Parler was removed for the same fear of feeding dissent among the population. The app was first removed from the Apple Store and then officially removed by Amazon on January 13th (Amazon hosted Parler through Amazon Web Services). None of these accounts or posts violated Parler’s terms of service but Parler was removed anyway.
Social media or even the internet for that matter should not exist at all, but since it does I’d argue that tech companies shouldn’t be allowed to dictate what speech is considered valid especially if they are going to remove platforms that have different rules.
Specifically, the government should be responsible for how social media platforms handle speech, not the companies that run those platforms.
In the modern age in which we live, social media is one of the only forms of mass communication and with lockdowns it may be the only form of communication for many people. Now the logic that as these social media platforms are private companies, they should be able to refuse service to anyone they choose, seems convincing but it is more complex than that.
The government already puts restrictions on whose service a business can deny, for example, one can not deny service to a person based on factors like sex or race. The fact that social media is so new means the government hasn’t necessarily decided on what speech is protected and what isn’t.
But if social media is going to be classified as a means of expression like any other, any speech that doesn’t directly incite violence or makes threats are protected by the First Amendment.
Currently, social media platforms have a wide range of authority to control what is and is not on their platforms because they are private companies. Many point to their private status to justify their restrictions on speech. The fact that these situational libertarians will chastise opponents for even mentioning the idea of restrictions on social media platforms but then in the same breath speak of the importance of restrictions on every other facet of the economy is hypocritical in the strictest sense of the word.
Now for free speech to be protected, the government has to make the language of its laws clear. On May 28, 2020, an executive order, the Executive Order on Preventing Online Censorship, was issued giving protections to free speech on social media platforms, but how those protections would be put in place and who it would protect were unclear, making the order almost entirely useless.
And like any restriction on businesses, if a business refuses to follow the rules it should be punished. It is clear we need decisive laws in place that dictate what a company can and cannot do about speech on their platform and have proper enforcement of that legislation.
Right now many people are angered that social media companies are deciding what can and cannot be on their platforms.
“A lot of people are going to be super unhappy with West Coast high tech as the de facto arbiter of free speech,” Tesla and SpaceX CEO Elon Musk wrote on Twitter.
This means we should let the government, whose officials are elected and monitored, decide what free speech is, not some social media moguls who have no moderation and who do not have the public’s best interests at heart. Imagine other forms of expression being restricted in the same way.
Imagine films being restricted and manufactured to be the most profitable piece of media for a company instead of an artistic vision that may be shocking or uncomfortable for some.
A world in which every facet of expression is tailored by a company to maximize profits for themselves and their investors is not a world I want to live in.