Has Social Media Censorship Gone Too Far?

President Donald Trump has recently been banned from YouTube, Facebook, Instagram, Twitch, Reddit, Snapchat, and many other web platforms [1]. Has social media gone too far? Is this a violation of his freedom of speech? Contrary to popular belief, we are not protected in the United States to say whatever it is that we wish. “Freedom of speech does not include the right: To incite actions that would harm others (e.g., “[Shouting] ‘fire’ in a crowded theater.”), Schenck v. United States, 249 U.S. 47 (1919)” [2].   

This is where things get tricky. If what President Trump said counts as inciting violence, it isn’t protected under the First Amendment of The Constitution. However, what counts as inciting violence will vary from person to person and even from judge to judge. Before the Capitol Hill riots, Trump gave a speech to his supporters. The majority of those participants marched to Capitol Hill where chaos quickly unfolded. In his speech, Trump specifically told those who were gathered to make the protest a peaceful demonstration [3]. Despite this clarification, the protest resulted in violence and five deaths [4]. This is when objectivity and opinion come into play. It mostly comes down to either A: You believe that Trump’s language caused violence, regardless of his intentions, and that he should be held responsible or B: The confrontational language Trump used was metaphorical and was clearly not meant to be taken literally, he made the clarification that he wanted a peaceful demonstration. Therefore, he did not intentionally incite violence and should not be condemned as having done so. 

Regardless of which of those two opinions you fall under, or somewhere else, those censoring him are technically private companies. It is not the responsibility of private companies to provide a platform for anything they don’t want to. However, this brings us to a point of concern for both Republicans and Democrats. Many believe that Facebook is a monopoly. Facebook currently owns its own platform as well as Instagram and WhatsApp [5]. Although other social media platforms exist, Facebook and its properties are clearly the dominating force of social media. Regardless of its intentions, Facebook has become a primary source of information for many. The company is currently experiencing a lawsuit with 48 states involved [5]. The primary claim of the states being that Facebook is a monopoly and needs to be broken up [5]. 

You might be happy that President Trump has finally been silenced. Even President Trump’s own political party has long since grown fatigued of his impulsive and unprofessional tweets. Given his colorful history, one might be surprised to read the tweets that officially caused his account to be banned. The tweets were: “The 75,000,000 great American Patriots who voted for me, AMERICA FIRST, and MAKE AMERICA GREAT AGAIN, will have a GIANT VOICE long into the future. They will not be disrespected or treated unfairly in any way, shape or form!!!” and “To all of those who have asked, I will not be going to the Inauguration on January 20th,” [6]. If Obama or any other president in history were to have made these same remarks, I remain skeptical they would have been met with such backlash. Twitter claims it is because of the situation surrounding these tweets that he was banned [6]. Situational context is a far too opinionated vehicle to judge upon subjects that should remain objective. 

What happens not if but when social media companies start censoring information on subjects that you believe in and are objectively true? What if social media starts censoring individuals just because the company doesn’t like the person? Even if they have the right to do so as a private company, times are changing. Social media is becoming a more and more vital part of our lives and communication. This important aspect of our society is being controlled by only a few companies. By accepting President Trump’s censorship, we are potentially standing on a most slippery slope from which there could be no return. 

Part of the US government’s responsibility is to break up monopolies [7]. It is well within the government’s responsibility and power to place restrictions or rules upon these companies who have monopolized the market [7]. Also, Facebook’s attempts to hide and conceal information they don’t want their customers to see is highly hypocritical. For years, Facebook’s algorithms have purposefully shown controversial articles, regardless of their validity, as a part of their algorithm to keep people engaged on their websites [8]. The American people should be less concerned with what Trump said, and more worried about the contention social media has been feeding us for profit for years. The political divide in this country would not be nearly so vast if it were not for the malignant actions of these companies. Social media has gone too far. 

https://www.washingtonpost.com/technology/2021/01/11/trump-banned-social-media/ [1]

https://www.uscourts.gov/about-federal-courts/educational-resources/about-educational-outreach/activity-resources/what-does  [2]

https://www.usnews.com/news/politics/articles/2021-01-13/transcript-of-trumps-speech-at-rally-before-us-capitol-riot [3] 

https://www.nytimes.com/2021/01/11/us/who-died-in-capitol-building-attack.html [4]

https://www.theguardian.com/technology/2020/dec/09/facebook-lawsuit-antitrust-whatsapp-instagram-ftc [5] 

https://blog.twitter.com/en_us/topics/company/2020/suspension.html [6]

https://www.investopedia.com/insights/history-of-us-monopolies/ [7]

https://www.motherjones.com/politics/2020/05/facebook-public-square/ [8]

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Jared Godfrey

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