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When Twitter shut down former President Donald Trump’s account, people throughout the world were stunned. A world leader was just silenced on the basis of alleged lies and, according to Twitter’s leadership team, inciting the attempted insurrection on January 6th. Other platforms followed suit—Facebook, Instagram, and even YouTube have shut down President Trump’s ability to use their platforms.
People on the right were upset by this, and have placed the social media giants under fire for censoring various conservative outlets. They claim that political ideas from the right side of the spectrum are being removed or shut down in some way. But do their claims actually have merit?
It goes without question that Facebook and Twitter can ban people for misconduct, but are these massive tech companies blocking conservative outlets just because they are conservative? Possibly, but it’s definitely not for certain. Conservative commentator Ben Shapiro has mentioned instances where his listeners cannot naturally find his content through Facebook’s algorithm—essentially making his outlet’s content invisible to viewers new and old.
James O’Keefe’s outlet—Project Veritas—was banned from Twitter in April 2021 after posting a journalistic video about CNN. However, it isn’t only Conservatives. Some liberal commentators claim that their views are being censored online in one form or another as well—seemingly without warning. Does social media censorship exist? It seems like it, but it is important to look at all the facts before coming to any conclusions.
Section 230 is one of the biggest laws in the news regarding social media’s place in the nation. It essentially allows social platforms like Twitter and Facebook to function as town squares of information. People can post or comment almost anything they want (so long as it’s not illegal), and the platforms won’t be held liable. This saves them from a barrage of lawsuits that would inevitably come their way.
However, politicians on both sides of the aisle have suggested that these companies cannot claim to be platforms while simultaneously selecting what is published on the digital “town square”. This would make Twitter and Facebook more akin to publishers than platforms. There are a minimum of 22 states that have introduced anti-censorship bills in an attempt to prevent various platforms from being allowed to restrict or remove content. While nothing has passed as firm legislation yet, it seems to indicate a growing distrust in the tech giants.
At the moment, it is unlikely that the federal government will do much to change Section 230. But in the near future, it is likely that state governments will draft bills and pass laws specifying social media’s role in the national sphere. Republican-run states seem to be leading the charge for now, but it is possible that Democrat states will follow suit.
Section 230 could be altered to reflect this change in standards, reinforcing social media’s standing as a public square for honest dialogue. Whatever the change, hopefully, the new law and reforms will ensure freedom of speech for all Americans online.
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