Google, Facebook, Twitter, and others are actively restricting free speech through vague and open ended acceptable use policies. People are routinely blocked, banned, and silenced because of their political viewpoints. Action must be taken to stop this. Internet forums and other internet services must be forced to treat all viewpoints, including hate speech equally. Hate speech? Yes absolutely, because who defines hate speech. If I say “I hate it when people are killed in the name of religion,” Is that hate speech? But without a doubt someone would call that hate speech.
The standard argument against regulating internet companies is that they are private companies and, as such can moderate their services as they see fit. But they are not really private. They are publically traded companies that are bought and sold on a daily basis on the stock market. A very tightly regulated aspect of their “private” business. And the law still regulates private companies in many other ways. Just because you are private does not mean that you can do anything you want.
But even more importantly, because of their size and influence companies such as Twitter and Facebook have become de facto monopolies under the law.
The government broke up and instituted new regulations when the railroads grew too big. They stepped in when Standard oil grew too big. And they broke up Bell Telephone when it grew too big. The social media companies have grown too big. They assert too much influence over public opinion. It is time to step in regulate them.
We often hear the mantra, if you don’t like it, go start your own version of Facebook or Twitter. This is a laughably ignorant statement. The very idea that the average person could successfully start and grow a social media company that approaches the exposure of Facebook or Twitter is so ludicrous as to be nonsensical.
Facebook and Twitter are acting as a carrier; they enjoy the same protections from legal action as does your local phone company. Yet by regulating their content, by picking and choosing who is allowed to post and what they are allowed to say, they are acting as a publisher. They shouldn’t be allowed to have it both ways.
How would you like it if the phone company told you what you can and cannot talk about? My phone company is a private company, but they are not allowed to regulate what I say over the phone. My electric company is a private company, but they are not allowed to disconnect me because they don’t like my political affiliation.
The very idea that as private companies such as Google, Facebook, Twitter should be allowed to regulate free speech is a dreadfully weak argument.
Facebook, Twitter, and Google have grown too large and have far too much influence to be allowed to continue unchecked. First amendment protections must be extended to posts on social media, less we turn into George Orwell’s 1984 dystopian society where everything we say is controlled. But controlled, not by the government, but corporations instead. Corporations that have no duty to the people, only their shareholders. In the end, what is the difference whether it is the government or a corporation? Control is control, discrimination is discrimination.
This is a quote from a Google engineer — “Are we going to just let the biggest tech companies decide who wins every election from now on?” — Because if we don’t step in that is exactly what is going to happen. By opening their platform to the public they have become public forums, and as public platforms they must remain open to the public. By restricting political posts such corporations have become supporters of the party whose ideals align with theirs. It is past the time in which social media companies must be designated public utilities, and forced to follow the same rules as all other public utilities.
How would you like it if the phone company told you what you can and cannot talk about? Facebook, Twitter, and Google must be treated no different.
We have long recognized in this country that when some companies get too big, the reasonable option of consumers to choosing another company disappears. When that happens, the government steps in, for the benefit of the people. We are at that point with the social media giants. The internet should be declared a utility. It has become impossible to conduct business in any meaningful way without the internet. Even day to day life is becoming more and more dependent on being connected. So yes, the internet and the social media giants absolutely must be declared utilities and forced to follow the bill of rights.