Social media censorship is now clearly no longer an outside problem. It is a repeated issue that everyone must consider, whether or not they are the ones being censored.
Here are a few recent examples of social media censorship… In October, The New York Post was locked out of its Twitter account after sharing an article related to Hunter Biden’s communications with a Ukranian official. The link to the story was also restricted at the time. Ron Paul was temporarily blocked from using his Facebook page for unexplained “violations of community standards.” On January 7th, Mark Zuckerberg announced that President Trump’s accounts would be locked during his remaining time in office. On January 8th, President Trump’s twitter account was permanently suspended. Amazon, Apple and Google all removed Parler, an alternative social media platform, from their app stores.
Most Americans need not question whether free speech is a valuable principle. It is valuable not just as a human right, but also valuable for a wider range of opinions and information to be available, so that people can sort through all the information and make a personal decision on what they will believe. When large tech companies work together to limit or restrict speech, they cut out valuable opinions and information that people are desperately in need of.
The bar for restricting public speech is high. In Brandenburg v. Ohio (1969), the Supreme Court used a two-pronged test to determine whether certain public speech could be prohibited. Speech can be prohibited if it is “directed at inciting or producing imminent lawless action” and also is “likely to incite or produce such action.” There are a few other extreme cases in which first amendment rights are limited by Supreme Court decisions.
An important question in regards to social media entities is whether or not the speech on these platforms can be considered public speech. Certainly, these are private companies, and as such they have certain rights to freedom of association. However, these are also public platforms that are widely used, particularly for political speech. In a 2016 Pew Research Survey, 62% of U.S. adults said they get news on social media, and 18% said they do so often.
Facebook and Twitter have been responsible for blocking certain stories that could impact the outcome of political elections and now even restricting the President of the United States from his account. Through these actions, the social media giants have clearly taken sides. By doing so they have moved us further away from a public sphere in which people feel comfortable thinking freely and reporting important stories that malign the establishment.
It cannot be stressed enough that no matter what political, religious, economic or ethnic background a person comes from they deserve the right to voice their opinion— whatever that opinion may be. Proper responses to restriction of speech on the internet include speaking out against these restrictions and founding or supporting alternatives to current tech giants. It is doubtful that the state will have the proper solution to these problems or that even if it did, it would bother to use them.