In an op-ed published at USA Today earlier this month, opinion columnist James S. Robbins said that President Trump is right to criticize big social media sites like Facebook and Twitter.
“Social media has coarsened public discourse, silenced conservative voices and lowered the quality of journalism. We must do something about it,” he wrote.
Calling social media a “public menace,” Robbins added:
Social media companies say that the people they ban have violated the terms of service, such as engaging in hate speech, or being suspected of being a Russian bot. Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey admitted that his company skews leftward, but denies that this has any impact on what content is allowed on the platform. And since these are private companies in theory they should be free to establish whatever content policies they want.
But Chris Sevier, the activist who penned a proposal to stop social media censorship, explained:
In a sentence, social media websites are simply private businesses that are engaging in contracts and yes, they can be held liable for tortious conduct like breach of contract, fraudulent inducement, unjust enrichment, intentional infliction of emotional distress, bad faith, and unfair dealing, as I first noted here.
Right now, people who are being censored on Facebook feel powerless because it is too expensive to sue big social media companies, companies which, I might add, have limitless resources, even though they could. Plus, it is extremely difficult, if not downright impossible, to calculate damages, and also, it is unclear who would prevail because of the terms and conditions set by the social media website that were agreed upon when the user signed up.
Robbins went on to say that social media not only encourage our worst instincts, it has made public discussion of issues much more difficult.
“Even with all the world’s information at our fingertips, discussion has gotten coarser, more superficial, more vulgar, and more prone to threats, insults and violence. Social media also pull together and empower radicals of all stripes by making it easier for them to collaborate and pass on their toxic brews,” he said.
And he’s right. It doesn’t take much to find Twitter users advocating the murder of President Trump, for example. And the site routinely takes no action. Robbins sarcastically noted that Twitter would probably lose 75 percent of its traffic if it banned all of the actual hateful speech on the site.
He further stated:
It would be a mistake to look to the government to control the information flow, as some Senate Democrats are discussing. Once we start down that road we could wind up in a situation like China, where the government rates citizens using a system of “social credits” that rewards behavior the state approves of and punishes that which Beijing frowns on. The expression “Facebook jail” could take on a new, more literal meaning.
He went on to explain what action government could take against these companies: “The White House could ban these firms from government contracts until they clean up their act. Congress could investigate the threat to privacy social media present through buying and selling personal information. The Justice Department could consider instigating antitrust actions. Compare what Google is doing today to what Microsoft was charged with in the 1990s and the case makes itself.”
Additionally, state governments can pass Sevier’s measure into law, giving users some measure of protection from heavy-handed companies like Facebook.
He went on to explain what actions conservatives can take:
For conservatives, the answer is to tune out. There are social media alternatives, and there is nothing is stopping people from developing their own networks if they want. It is a fantastic business opportunity. Facebook, Twitter and other such platforms are 100 percent dependent on the users who voluntarily provide information to them. The algorithms that increasingly control your life are your fault. And if people stopped using these services, they would go away.
That, unfortunately, is easier said than done. A number of conservative alternatives, like ProAmericaOnly, have already been started, but as of now, they do not have anywhere near the reach that Facebook has with more than two billion registered users.
But Robbins is right — these sites have become, essentially, a direct threat to our freedom and form of democracy. Something has to be done, and fast — while there’s still time.
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