Free Speech After January 6th

By Diana Kerbeck

February 12th, 2021

What is the meaning of free speech in the digital age? Does a private company have responsibility for what is posted on their site? These are some of the questions that are being asked as the social media giants begin to censor disinformation, mostly from the right, on their platforms.

 This began after domestic terrorists stormed the Capital Building in a futile attempt to stop congress from certifying Joe Biden as the next president of the United States. This insurrection resulted in the deaths of four people and permanently damaged America’s reputation as a republic.

  Social media made this insurrection possible, it allowed conspiracy theories of election tampering to run wild and it allowed the most devoted of Trump’s supporters to organize and plan their revenge. 

 Since then, most social media companies have taken bold steps to combat disinformation and hate speech on their sites, most notably the censorship of former President Donald Trump. Is this an example of the silencing of free speech or a justified act that prevents the spread of false information?

  Legally, social media companies have the freedom to control what is said on their sites, and the First Amendment only prevents congress from regulating freedom of speech. However, this does create an ethics-based dilemma since a country that prides itself on its liberty has private companies controlling what is said on the most popular means of civil discourse. 

  In my opinion, the actions taken by social media companies so far are completely justified. They have immensely helped curtail the sheer amount of false information and violent rhetoric that has littered social media for the last few years.

  Social media companies have finally realized they share responsibility when the content posted on their sites leads to hate, violence, and death. More importantly, these tech giants’ actions may have helped prevent violent riots from occurring on inauguration day.

  Additionally, spending these last few weeks without the dumpster fire that is Donald Trump’s Twitter account, has been quite refreshing. This all being said, there is still a concern over the sheer power wielded by these companies that is now becoming far more apparent than ever before. Should we trust private companies with the absolute ability to control the discussion of American politics?

 One must not forget that social media got us into this mess in the first place and that Facebook played a significant role in the election of Donald Trump in 2016. The overall issue, as it nearly always does, goes back to money. 

 The primary interest of social media companies is not to foster a free and open environment for civil discourse, or to help police the spreading of false or hateful rhetoric, but rather profit. These companies saw no issue with their platforms becoming breeding grounds for fascism, only now that they see their bottom line threatened do they act. Facebook and Twitter shouldn’t be receiving credit for doing the bare minimum, especially after the damage they have already done. 

  The solution is a highly complex issue, but since the only thing these companies seem to listen to is money, consumers do have the power to withhold support from social media that chooses not to reflect our values.

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