By Will Howe '21
Recently, there has been a lot of buzz around Youtube and other social media platforms regarding their censorship of speech and opinions, including de-platforming. De-platforming is when a platform bans a user from their site, essentially removing their ability to speak on their platform. Some would even go as far as to say that by de-platforming, you remove one’s ability to speak.
Right now, much of the argument around social media censorship stems from whether they are a publisher—and subsequently are responsible for what gets published on their site—or a speech platform. If they were a publisher, they would be subject to legal consequences if someone posted “Go kill Trump”. However, social media platforms are, as the name suggests, speech platforms, meaning that individuals are responsible for what they post. This protects these platforms from constant legal action, thus allowing them to exist. These protections only apply if the platform allows for “forum[s] for a true diversity of political discourse”, which arguably many of the social media giants do not. Therefore, these social media companies should either be treated as publishers or cease their biased censorship and de-platforming.
One of the most famous examples of de-platforming occured when Alex Jones, a conservative podcast host and conspiracy theory aficionado, was simultaneously banned from Youtube, Facebook, LinkedIn, Spotify, and Twitter among other platforms. The timing suggests coordination—but that is a conspiracy theory for another time. The point is that Jones’ “hate speech” violations of the terms of service of these platforms was applied unfairly, as people like Louis Farakhan remain on the platform in light of Jones being banned (Farakhan is the leader of The Nation of Islam, and has ties with many congressional democrats). Farakhan’s ties with the DNC and his subsequent immunity to deplatforming suggest a political bias. In addition, the hate speech clauses in the terms of service of many of the companies who deplatformed Jones include “misgendering” as a bannable offense. Misgendering is subjective, as some right-wingers would argue that a man who transitions to becoming a woman is misgendered when they are called “she”. The misgendering fits with a leftist worldview, and is inherently politically biased. There are countless more examples of the platform bias against conservatives, many of which are simply bans of conservatives from the platform, but one can only fit so much into 500 words.
The conclusion to be reached from the political bias and censorship of the platforms, contrasted with the principles of what constitutes a platform vs a publisher, is that social media platforms with biased terms of service and de-platforming policies should be treated as publishers, unless they allow for “forum[s] for a true diversity of political discourse”, as stated in Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act, which they arguably do not.
Well, you may ask, what do you propose we do about these companies then? Well realistically nothing except create new platforms without these biases, and even then this solution would only further divide the country, creating echo-chambers of regurgitated opinions circling around like a lazy-river, with little to no advancement of opinion or reasoning as result of rationalization of one’s views. Lawsuits have proven ineffective at changing the companies to foster an environment that values freedom of speech above all else, as should be the goal of a speech platform. The truth is there is no good solution for those who want open discussion so far, but hopefully big tech companies will see people becoming fed up with their censorship, and move towards maintaining platforms that value diversity of opinion.