This past week, President Trump signed an executive order in the name of preventing online censorship. Ironically, he may be doing the very thing he claims to oppose.
Fact Checking Trump
Let us look at the leadup to this. Days before the President signed this executive order, he tweeted that mail-in ballots would be subject to widespread fraud. Right away, Twitter fact-checked him and countered that this statement was not true according to studies. It sent the President and his followers into a frenzy as they decried social media companies for “limiting free speech” and stifling conservative voices
In principle, it is fair to say that they are correct. Censorship of conservative voices across several social media companies, most notably Facebook, has become a serious issue in the past couple of years. It contradicts the principles of freedom of speech and expression that these liberal-headed companies claim to espouse. No amount of fact checking, no matter how true, can cover up that fact.
Self-Awareness is Key
In the same token however, conservatives, the President’s supporters, and even some “libertarians” clearly lack self-awareness on the issue. They forget that they gave their consent to adhere to said companies’ rules and guidelines, the moment they first made an account with them. Facebook can be scummy with right-wing voices, no doubt. We’ve all been “Zucced” at some point.
Nevertheless, they are still a private company/corporation. And they are the kinds of entities you see Republicans and libertarians defending, on the front lines of economic debates. All in the name of the market of ideas.
“So long as they’re a private company they can do whatever they want!”
“If you don’t like it, then just shop elsewhere!”
“Let the market decide!”
“You willingly signed a contract!”
Section 230 of the 1996 Communications Decency Act is the main target of the executive order. The order instructs federal agencies to take greater oversight and authority in enforcing the act’s policy; effectively, turning them loose on social media as some kind of speech police.
Thankfully however, the President’s executive order has no real authority so long as Congress doesn’t pass any legislation supporting it. Furthermore, legal experts have deemed it as a meaningless act, since the law doesn’t actually work the way President Trump thinks it does.
The law essentially does two things. First, it establishes that interactive computer services are not liable for the content of their users. Second, it also allows for said computer services to moderate themselves “in good faith” for legitimately offensive content.
Neither of these protections are actually relevant to how the White House feels about social media companies. If anything, the statute’s text leans in favor of protecting these very companies and supports them in moderating and deleting content that is actually offensive, like child pornography or violence.
However, the fact that President Trump wishes to strip internet platforms of these free speech protections is concerning. His order may not be able to do much, but it could certainly be the start of a slippery slope towards restriction of free speech.
Principled or Pushover?
To my conservatives and “libertarians” supporting the President’s order, here’s an idea: if you don’t like it so much, why don’t you leave and create a social media network of your own? Or why not just leave social media altogether? No one’s forcing you to stay on Facebook or Twitter. No one has a gun pointed to your head and is telling you that you must like all of Janet’s tweets.
Also, why are you trying to use the government to control what a social media company can or cannot do with its platform? You’re all for free markets and corporations… until they start doing things you don’t like. This implies one of two things: that you feel we should re-examine the way we allow corporations to run loose and limit people’s speech in sly, dishonest ways.
Or maybe you just aren’t as principled as you thought and have no understanding of the First Amendment.
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Author: Isai Contreras
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