Should chief executives of big Tech Firms in the U.S. be fit to act as judge and jury on free speech?

LiberalBirju Dhaduk

Following the insurrection at the United States Capitol Building, various big tech companies, most notably Twitter, have banned former President Donald J. Trump and Trump related content. This has caused disagreement about whether or not companies should be able to censor what information they allow on their platforms. Some have stated that such censorship is an infringement on the freedom of speech, but these same people fail to recognize that such companies are private companies and not the government.

The right to freedom of speech in the First Amendment states that “Congress shall make no law… abridging the freedom of speech.” Twitter and all other companies that have banned Trump are not acting unconstitutionally and are well within their rights to ban anyone or anything that they see as breaking their Terms of Service (ToS). These ToS are agreed to by all of their users. Being the former President of the United States does not make a person immune to those ToS.

These companies should not have to be enforcers of the law, but only expected to be enforcers of their own ToS. Thus, their actions of banning Trump and Trump related content is completely justified, especially if it fulfills their moral responsibility of preventing violent attacks against the government that may be planned or discussed on their platforms.

Apple, Google, and finally Amazon Web Services eventually removed a far-right social media app by the name of Parler from their app stores. However, because Parler is unable to find another willing provider out of the few that exist, their app is no longer accessible.

Parler has compared this action by Amazon to that of “pulling the plug on a hospital patient on life support.” They are blaming Amazon for destroying their business. However, just as people sign ToS before using an app, Parler had signed the ToS that Amazon had. These ToS do not dictate what content Parler is allowed on its platform but does require Parler to identify and remove any content that encourages and incites violence against others. Parler’s refusal to do so does not make them a “hospital patient on life support” but rather a principal who was fired by the superintendent for not disciplining violent kindergarteners.

It can’t be said that Big Tech companies are biased when fufilling their own ToS. They will and should continue to act as their own private companies uninfluenced by the government. Any that disagree should not use those platforms. Therefore, it is not mine or anyone else’s place to decide whether these Big Tech companies acted ethically, much less decide how they should act in the future.

IndependentIsaac Scafe

Donald Trump has been the center of attention for all things social media for years now. For months, the former president has constantly promoted misinformation on his social media accounts. Platforms like Twitter, Instagram and Facebook have had to place warnings on his posts to warn viewers of false information. While most users would have been suspended for violating platform rules, Trump has avoided facing punishment due to his status as President. However, after the riot that occurred at the Capitol building earlier this year, social media companies were left with no choice but to ban Trump from their platforms.

Media giants constantly struggle to provide a platform that is both safe for users while protecting their freedom of speech. Users have the right to say what they want to say as long as they abide by the company’s policies. As such, if a certain political figure constantly breaks those policies, big tech firms have the right to ban them from using their platforms. However, Big Tech firms shouldn’t be actively hunting people violating those terms.

A week after the riot at the Capitol building, Twitter announced that they had banned over 70 thousand users from their platform for spreading QAnon theories. However, this characteristic alone is not necessarily a violation of their policies. If this was the case, then almost every conspiracy theorist wouldn’t be allowed to use social media platforms. Instead, I believe it should be up to the users to report anything that may be a violation of a company’s policy, which is supposed to be the entire premise of the “report” function of social media. After a post has been reported a certain amount of times, it should then be up to Big Tech firms to decide what to do with the post.

The same concept can be applied to apps available on mobile markets. Parler, a heavily conservative social network app, was banned from the Google Play Store and the Apple Store after refusing to moderate its users. Although platforms like Facebook allowed posts promoting the pro-Trump rally in Washington D.C., it still managed to crack down on users sharing those posts. Social media platforms, being private entities, are allowed to enforce their own guidelines. However, they shouldn’t police their users by actively hunting them down.

The decision to ban platforms of Donald Trump, Parler and other QAnon theorists is a difficult path to take for Big Tech companies. Each platform has its own policies that users must follow. However, if users are being banned now for violating them, why were they not banned earlier? Companies must work with its users to ensure that others are following the same rules. Big Tech shouldn’t be policing its users’ posts but if there are clear violations of the company’s policies, then appropriate action must be taken when they occur, not merely as a reactionary measure months or years down the line.

Conservative Maksim Sokolov

In the spirit of traditional capitalism, it would be wrong to prohibit tech companies, such as Google, Facebook and Twitter, to do whatever they want with their social platforms. However, January’s events have put this question under more scrutiny than ever and alarmed many conservatives, including myself.

The “big tech” companies have had a growing history of questionable censorship and bias towards conservative voices online ever since Donald Trump won the election in 2016. They have established numerous algorithms to sort out “violent” and “dangerous” content and implemented features like fact-checking. Protecting people from violence-inflicting content and misinformation sounds like a great concept on paper. However, if we dive into the details of that concept and consider the influence that such companies have on national and global media, the idea of giving these companies the power to police the truth and protect us from what they deem dangerous sounds quite questionable and can even be scary.

Censoring content that is deemed hateful, sensitive or misinforming raises a lot of questions that can’t necessarily be answered simply, especially by these companies‘ chief executives. Sensitive to who? Hateful how? Misinforming in what way? The truth is not always black and white;  it is often a shade in between. The gray area that always carries itself with these issues is quickly filled with faulty and biased interpretations and opinions of the people doing the fact-checking. With enough effort, almost any claim could be found hateful, and any statement could be found to be potentially misinforming.

The core idea of free speech and the First Amendment is to allow people to make mistakes, learn in doing and be who we really are— biased and faulty creatures. When hugely influential companies such as Facebook and Twitter take that away from us, it makes it harder for us to do what we were meant to do naturally as a civilization—express our ideas freely, learn and grow.

As a conservative, I very much cherish the First Amendment right, and even though I do recognize the Big Tech’s right to handle their platform the way they please, I can’t help but think that their own rules should resemble a more unbiased ethical code. It isn’t comforting for me to think that Silicon Valley, a leader of the leftist movement in the United States, has such an immense presence in our lives and has increasingly shown its hostility to thoughts different from its own.

About The Author

Maksim Sokolov

Sokolov (Business '24) is part of the Vector writing, layouts, and graphic design team. "Hey! My name is Maxim, I'm a freshman here at NJIT, studying business. I'm an aspiring graphic designer and have big ambitions in the industry. In my free time, I enjoy going to the gym (bodybuilding/strongman), reading non-fiction (philosophy/business), and expanding my taste in music."

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