Big Tech, Censorship and the Internet
The debate over internet censorship by big tech companies seems to be intensifying. This is a real problem, but there is a danger that some potential remedies are worse than the disease.
The big tech media giants are increasingly making editorial decisions about big political controversies. Given the near-monopoly reach of companies like Twitter and Facebook, critics, especially on the right, have a legitimate concern that there is a concerted effort to suppress political discourse.
There are many examples of this, and not just the current ban by former President Trump, who won 74 million votes in the last election, both on Facebook and Twitter. You don’t have to believe Mr. Trump’s claims that the last election was stolen, or endorse his actions on January 6, to think it’s inappropriate to exclude such an important politician for a while. long periods. But it goes far beyond excluding Mr. Trump. Tech companies seem less and less inclined to allow political publications that go against mainstream liberal rhetoric. For example, just before the election, a decision was made to silence a credible New York Post report regarding Hunter Biden’s laptop and its possible connection to candidate Joe Biden.
And when it comes to the Covid virus, almost all speech outside the mainstream has been excluded, or at least subjected to controversial fact-checks or warning messages. For a while, even stories suggesting a link between the virus and the Chinese lab in Wuhan were viewed as misinformation. To be clear, I got the vaccine months ago, and I think most people should get the vaccine. But excluding much of the vaccine skepticism, its effectiveness and potential side effects seem a bit excessive.
While it’s not a good thing that a few billionaires have a disproportionate impact on what is permitted speech, what can be done as a cure is far from obvious.
One potential solution would be to require the big ISPs to treat all speech equally, as is required of the government, which (unlike private companies) is subject to the First Amendment. Alternatively, you could treat the large providers as if it were a public utility which, like the telephone companies of old, was largely obligated to take the word of all comers.
While the argument has been made that large tech venues operate the functional equivalent of the town square, and therefore are similar to government, in fact tech companies have different rights, powers and responsibilities than those government authorities. Plus, you probably wouldn’t want all the rules of speech that apply to government to apply to tech companies as well. For example, most people are comfortable with at least some form of censorship from tech companies. Facebook, for example, seems well within its rights to ban pornographic images that might not be legally obscene. And while it may be legally protected speech, few of us worry that this, say, Twitter does not allow neo-Nazi or Klan rants on its site. Similar arguments would apply to public utility theory since censorship would be largely prohibited.
It has also been suggested that large utilities lose their protection under Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act, which in most cases protects internet companies from liability for defamatory third party publications. The problem here is that unlike newspapers and most TV shows, it’s impossible, or at least very impractical, to pre-filter user content.
There is also the idea of an anti-trust initiative against the big players, with unknown economic ramifications.
I guess in my perfect world, the tech company would understand that suppressing much of the political discourse is not in their long term best interest and that they would do well to take a lighter hand rather than be submissive. to heavy legislation or regulations. We’ll see if they realize it.