Image via CNET
It took a few years, but Twitter eventually removed Donald Trump from its platform. So also for Facebook. Too much hate. Too much violence. The Capitol Rebellion was the last straw.
There have been many commentators who said this is a problem. In my opinion, firing Trump and anyone else who incites hatred and incites violence is certainly not a problem.
For now we will forego the argument of the first change. There is nothing there. These are private companies and the first change limits the government’s options. The principles on which I leave a comment or commentary are no different from Big Tech’s. Big tech and small tech share the same basic problem, albeit to a different extent.
If you spit out hatred or spam or just write crap that I don’t like, then you’re gone. My blog, my rules. If you don’t like it, don’t come here. The same goes for big tech.
This deplatformation of a president did not affect people for any reason other than that he was president, at least for a few more days.
At Bloomberg, Joe Nocera claims this is a problem because some Big Tech leaders have too much power:
Do you really want Jack Dorsey, Mark Zuckerberg, Tim Cook, and Sundar Pichai to decide which speech is acceptable and which is not on their platforms – platforms that are now indistinguishable from public space. In addition to the problem of so much power being concentrated in so few hands, they just aren’t very good at it. Their rules are vague, constantly changing, and are often ignored when the user is prominent enough.
He comes to a solution – destroying the protection of section 230:
I came up with an idea that the law asked for – and that Trump tried unsuccessfully to approve Congress a few weeks ago. Eliminate Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act 1996. This is the provision that protects – or otherwise blocks – social media companies from legal liability for the content they post.
He then admits that this would only lead to problematic posters like Trump being castrated anyway. Because without 230 protective measures, the platform could possibly be held liable for the misconduct of posters. Nocera simply thinks castration is good:
Once the social media companies have legal liability – not just for libel but inciting violence, etc. – they will quickly change their algorithms to block problems remotely. People would still be able to discuss politics, but they would not be able to hurl anti-Semitic slurs. Presidents and other officials could post guidelines, but they could not spark wild conspiracies.
This is a terrible idea for reasons I discussed last month – Section 230 is the lifeblood of interactive communication. Without 230, you would never read a negative review on a restaurant, hotel, or widget. Negative reviews would result in litigation and the platform is unable to ascertain the truth / falsehood of the review. And with politics there are tons of shades of gray all wrapped up in contextual statements.
Twitter and Facebook are hardly the only platforms Trump has to speak on. After all, he has the presidential podium and can speak of it freely.
And even if he’s out of office – and he’ll be gone – Trump could call and talk to all journalists in the world. Who would say no? Love him or despise him, you will surely want answers to questions. Of course recorded.
And these remarks would be repeated by others. On twitter. On Facebook. And in a million newspapers, magazines, news programs, blogs, bulletin boards, etc. And it would happen almost instantly.
The only difference is that Twitter / Facebook are not primary, but secondary sources.
Prof. Eugene Volokh raised concerns in a statement from the New York Times. He writes that while there are many places to speak, Twitter and Facebook are incomparable:
There are hundreds of newspapers across the country and several major television networks. Facebook and Twitter don’t have major rivals in their media niches. The public relies on them as unparalleled mechanisms for unfiltered communication, including the communication between politicians and their constituents.
What is missing, however, is that social media is largely about re-disseminating the thoughts and opinions of others. If Trump (or any other dumped commenter) says something worth repeating, it will be repeated on these platforms. From someone. Whether the ideas are widely disseminated depends solely on their interest. The same as me. And you.
One final thought: Nobody claims it is easy to moderate these platforms or a forum with a lot of discussion.
It is difficult and practically impossible to find objective criteria. The words themselves often obscure the context, as we shall see in the upcoming impeachment debate on Trump, which instructs people to march on the Capitol.
Do you want to know why it is difficult? Look at this simple example. In one context, Trump says “March on the Capitol!” to an angry group of armed insurgents. In another, Mahatma Gandhi says, “March to the salt pans to make salt.” One is an implicit call to violence, implicit because Trump has a long history of advocating violence. The other comes from someone with a long history of advocating peace.
Context is important. And it defies artificial intelligence decisions that only look at the words. Let Big Tech (and Small Tech) do what they want when it comes to dumping / holding posters. Keep the government off of it.
(Full Disclosure: I own shares in Twitter after buying them after Trump was sworn in and thought four years of free advertising couldn’t hurt.)