Sunday, May 5, 2019

The Digital Town Square

Is social media truly the new town square? There have been a lot of conservative and ideologically right voices being banned from Facebook and Twitter. Some on the ideological right say these are private businesses and have a right to ban whomever they please.

I've personally been torn between thoughts. My first reaction is that we don't want government interfering in private businesses. We all know that government is constantly regulating businesses, but those of us for a free market work to fight against regulations.

There is one possible way to fight against people being banned, and that's through civil suits. There was recently a mass banning of right-wing people and groups from Facebook in the name of clearing the site of hate groups. Labeling a group or person as hate can have financial and social harm. I believe we will see some lawsuits against Facebook and Twitter for this labeling. Civil suits can protect the rich, but the average person can't afford to sue a large corporation.

Something new has been brought into this debate. It's being said that social media is the new town square. The Constitution is clear on this matter, that people can go to the town square and speak out against government.

Not too long ago, President Trump blocked some followers from his personal Twitter account for being rude and mean. The courts were quick to react and said that elected officials can't block followers. This tells us the courts have already set a precedent for what can and cannot be done on social media.

There has been controversy over NFL players kneeling during the National Anthem. You would think the owners could have stopped players from kneeling, but it wasn't that easy. The Supreme Court has ruled hat students and employees can't be forced to participate in patriotic events. I would think this ruling also applies to fans at sporting events.

If the NFL can't demand a person stand for the National Anthem, can Facebook demand people's speech be contained to a certain political viewpoint? If social media is the new town square, as the courts have suggested, can the owners silence specific political speech? None of this means that social media owners can't ban people for threats and even some bigoted speech against individuals that are outside political boundaries,.

During the last election, I, and probably many others, learned about candidates from social media. Sometimes these candidates conversed directly with me, which couldn't have happened otherwise. Without social media, I'm not sure I could have made the same knowledgeable choices.

Ana Navarro: “I want them shut down, I want them silenced, I wanted them muted. I think they’re horrible for our society."
There has been a call to remove President Trump from social media. This is something the courts would never allow. If he can't be removed, then why should his followers, or anyone because of their political ideology, alone? Because of the courts, social media might have surpassed the point of simply being a private business.

Someone could build a platform to compete with Facebook and Twitter. We know from the past that's hard to do. Some thought Myspace would never fall from the top, but it did. As things stand now, could Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube be considered monopolies? Have they garnered so many resources that no one can compete?

Yes, I have asked a lot of questions without providing any answers—that's because I have none. The one thing of which I'm sure, and that's social media has become the modern town square. I did travel to Washington, DC twice so that my small voice could be heard. I was simply a pea in a sea of pods. It cost us to travel and it cost millions of dollars and stacks of paperwork to put on a rally in front of the Capitol.

Today, for the mere price of a computing device my voice can be heard by far more people. Without social media, even this blog would become that pea in a sea of pods. Because of social media the voice of a nobody, a modern peasant, can be heard by millions of people around the world. Should my voice be banned from such power simply because I have a political view that the owners don't like?

Governments control monopolies everyday. A utility can't raise prices to extremes simply because there is no competition. There are even regulations and laws preventing a utility from turning off service for not paying the bill. Sure, social media hasn't reached that stage of a monopoly, and no one will die if they're kicked off, but they will lose a lot of advantages. It's easy to say that being on social media is a privilege, but the harder question is, has it drifted into the area of being a right?

No one is saying that abusive people shouldn't be banned from social media, but we must be very careful of allowing people to be banned for hate speech,. Today, we have fanatics on he ideological left who believes anything they disagree with is hate speech. A prime example of that is how the left labels President Trump, anti-Semitic. The opposite is true—No president has ever been more supportive of the Jewish people and Israel. Israel has gone so far as to name a community for the president to honor his support of their country. There is only one reason Trump is called anti-Semitic, and it's for political power. Labeling people has become a weapon mostly used by the left. If something is repeated enough, many will accept it as the truth, especially when it's said against the political opposition.

There are already laws in place that protect web hosts, site mangers, and others from being sued because of speech by users. Social media can't say they are controlling speech for their own protection. They have no legal reason to ban anyone because of their political beliefs.

We must resist the regulation of a private businesses, while also doing whatever it takes to protect free speech. It's become clear these lines are blurring—for that reason we must have a strong debate by all ideologies to solve the issue of free speech online.

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