“The Truth is Essential.” – A New York Times statement that frequently runs in the newspaper.
The last four years has seen a dramatic erosion of facts and truth, one of the essentials of our democracy. In its place are conspiracy theories, misinformation and blatant lies.
While free speech is everyone’s right, social media users and the companies that allow them access, have crossed the line into hate and at times, violence. With political divisions playing out on social media sites everyday, it’s time for Congress to step in and hold the companies accountable by law instead of the standards they create for themselves.
CNBC’s Matt Rosoff writes (Jan. 11, 2021), “Enough is enough… the health of American democracy is more important than allowing these companies and their shareholders to continue to profit from allowing propagandists to spread lies and groups to organize violent actions on their platforms. …
“Many of the photos and social media videos of the Capitol mob on Wednesday depict what looks like fun-loving idiots, posing with their feet on desks and vaping in offices. But there were also people carrying tactical gear… Others had loaded guns, bulletproof vests and Molotov cocktails…. These folks weren’t there for the selfies. …
“Ashli Babbitt, was a Trump supporter who embraced QAnon and other conspiracy theories, NBC News reported. The networks eventually cracked down in 2020, with Facebook, YouTube and Twitter all removing and banning thousands of QAnon-related accounts and pieces of content, but the damage was done,” Rosoff says.
And the malignancy to our democracy will continue to grow unless meaningful measures are taken.
In contrast to his Borat character, comedian-actor, Sasha Baron Cohen says, “The Silicon Six [Mark Zuckerberg of Facebook, Jack Dorsey of Twitter, Susan Wojcicki of YouTube, Sundar Pichai of Alphabet Google, Larry Page and Sergey Brin, also the founders of Google] — all billionaires, all Americans, care more about boosting their share price than about protecting democracy. This is ideological imperialism — six un-elected individuals in Silicon Valley imposing their vision on the rest of the world, unaccountable to any government and acting like they’re above the reach of law. …
“I had quite a heated discussion with one of them… asking why they were allowing Holocaust denial. And they said, no, we’re not. We’ve sorted that out. And I pulled up a website. What about this? And it was a website saying that the six million was a lie…. And they said, well, that just really showed both sides of the argument. And I said, what argument? There’s an argument about whether the Holocaust existed?
“When Mark Zuckerberg says, I’m the defender of free speech, he is lying, right? The U.S Constitution says that Congress — Congress, not companies — Congress shall make no law abridging freedom of speech. So that does not apply to private businesses like Twitter and Facebook…. if a neo-Nazi comes goosestepping into a restaurant and starts threatening customers and saying he wants to kill Jews, the restaurant owner has every legal right and actually a moral obligation to kick that Nazi out. And so do the internet companies. So, the idea that they are the defenders of free speech is ludicrous. I mean, they make editorial decisions continually. They don’t allow nipples, but they did allow Nazis.”
“The platforms claim they have rules and principles that try to balance free speech versus harm,” Rosoff writes, “and often say they don’t want to be the arbiters of truth on the internet. But Facebook’s and Twitter’s sudden decisions… to stop Donald Trump from posting after years of the exact same kind of behavior show how arbitrary these rules are. They can be changed at any time for any reason, or no reason. They’re not laws. They’re internal guidelines set by company executives who face no meaningful oversight.
“Facebook has been threading the needle on false election claims since last fall, banning political ads when the polls closed and limiting the reach of false election information (without taking it down) two days after the election. Yet, on Friday morning, two days after the Capitol mob, BuzzFeed still found more than 60 Facebook groups dedicated to the completely false idea that Trump was the victim of widespread election fraud, an idea for which no evidence has ever been presented and which dozens of judges have dismissed.
“These companies are simply not doing a good enough job of policing the kind of content on their platforms that contributed to [the January 6th] insurrection.”
What can be done? I’ll explore that Wednesday.