In Part I, I discussed the lengths to which high-tech social media companies like Facebook, LinkedIn, and others go to disparage and prohibit materials their “fact checkers” don’t like. Nowhere is this more true than with prominent scientists who differ from the politically dominant views on climate change. This post will look at possible remedies.
In any other field, government regulators, primarily the Federal Trade Commission, would not have allowed many of the mergers that have taken place in the social media space, and the companies would be broken up. After all, those few companies control a greater share of the social media market than Standard Oil controlled of the oil market before it was broken up by the government in the early twentieth century.
Instead of limiting these companies’ abilities to control communication, the federal government has largely fostered it. It has given them protection from libel and slander suits unimagined by any other type of media outlet, under the fiction that they are “platforms” not content providers. Yet they do provide and, more importantly, manage, censor, and block content on their sites, and they do this not just on the limited grounds explicitly mandated by the federal government—to prevent the depiction and promotion of violence and child pornography. They treat themselves as the arbiters of truth and acceptable exchange of opinion, which means providing “contextual” labelling on links and posts unrequested and often resented by the poster of the initial message.
As government-protected monopolies or oligopolies they merit government-imposed controls on their efforts to suppress speech that their woefully biased and misnamed “fact checkers” find unacceptable. Time and experience have shown the fact checkers repeatedly get the truth wrong because they substitute their opinion of what the facts are or the facts demonstrate. Or, they are simply fact checking in an area of limited, rapidly evolving information where new data show statements previously thought of as facts—largely because of the uncorroborated statements of government officials, treated unjustifiably as the authoritative experts on the topic—are later proven to be false or incomplete.
Don’t just rely on me; think about how these companies censored and continue to censor speech by health professionals concerning the Wuhan virus pandemic simply because government and progressive activists didn’t want the subject discussed or debated. These include its origins, the efficacy of a variety of possible medical interventions to combat the virus, the effectiveness of the vaccines developed to prevent it, and the possible dangers of adverse reactions to the rapidly approved, little-studied vaccines. Time and experience have shown the issues many doctors and researchers raised were legitimate.
During the pandemic, health professionals learned what scientists and analysts discussing climate change have long known: truth is no defense against censorship by Big Tech.
States Take the Lead in Promoting the Free Exchange of Ideas
While federal agencies ignore the problem and Congress dithers, states are increasingly taking the lead in addressing censorship in the public space by these federally licensed and sanctioned social media giants.
A Texas law prohibits mega-social media oligopolists from banning users’ posts based on their political viewpoints. The Fifth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals recently allowed the law to go into effect while the full case winds its way through the courts. Texas, while a leader in the movement in the effort to rein in tech-giants’ efforts to control or direct social discourse along lines they find appropriate, is not alone its effort.
A 10-state coalition, led by Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton, also filed a legal brief in a case before the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals supporting a Florida law requiring social media platforms to “apply their content-moderation practices in a consistent manner and to provide disclosures to affected users.” The Florida law doesn’t limit big tech’s ability to limit speech, it just requires transparency and consistency as they do so. But even this minimal limit on their control of personal and political speech is too much for the social-media Czar wanna-bes.
How these cases will ultimately be decided is unknown. Will state laws withstand judicial scrutiny? Who knows? Will Congress ultimately get involved and support free speech? After all, it is partially responsible for the problem, since it created the law that accepted the social media giants’ claims that they were neutral platforms—that is, allowing people to connect and share ideas—rather than content providers. By protecting social media companies from slander and libel claim, Congress did not establish them as arbiters of scientific truth or political or social opinion and discussion. This is a role social media giants assumed for themselves, after Congress protected them from legal claims that might be raised against their censorious actions.
Users of social media don’t need the companies’ protections from inconvenient truths or opinions they find offensive. They can unlike, unfriend, and unfollow, any person or group’s page or articles whom they find offensive, or with whom they disagree. That is the virtue of a free society.
Social media companies talk the talk of free speech and open exchange of ideas. It’ s now time for them to walk they walk, even if they must be forced to do so.
Image above is by Photo Mix from Pixabay.