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Why I No Longer Read Facebook

By Eve Mykytyn | May 2, 2020

In an effort to stem the torrent of ‘false’ cures and conspiracy theories about COVID-19, Facebook announced it would begin informing users globally who have liked, commented on, or shared “harmful” misinformation about the coronavirus, that the content they reacted to was incorrect and  pointing them in the direction of what Facebook considers to be a ‘reliable’ source. The reliable source? The World Health Organization. Here’s the distinctly noninformative WHO Covid 19 website .

I don’t know what caused Covid 19 to become our disease du jour. Was it a bat? A natural or laboratory mutation? Not only do I not know, but I don’t believe that Facebook, or the WHO know either. Why not let theories abound? Perhaps free speech means that we trust the people to evaluate the source and sort out the facts for themselves.

The general rule in the US is that no publisher has an obligation to print any particular view: that rule dates from when ‘publisher’ meant print and print was inexpensive. The founders intentionally strove to open a ‘marketplace of ideas,’ a ‘public square’ with pamphleteers and speeches. Published content was restricted only by the threat of litigation over libel or defamation which requires publishing material known (or should have known) to be false.

Exceptions to the general rule came about when publishing was through a limited medium regulated by the government. When television stations were a limited resource obtained through government licensing of the  few channels, the government imposed free speech requirements including an equal time rule, requiring television stations to present both sides of an issue. The rule was dropped, considered unnecessary only when television began to offer a plethora of stations.

So now we get to Facebook ( youtube, twitter, etc.). Which is it most like, television or freely available printing?

For many years, including the time that these major platforms became monopolies, the internet depended on cable service which due to the physical nature of cable was a limited resource for which the government issued licenses to certain cable companies. In 1965, the FCC established rules for cable systems and the Supreme Court affirmed the FCC’s jurisdiction over cable. I believe that Facebook is also subject to regulation as a monopoly as the government has authority to interfere with monopolies, particularly when they are successful (which is, admittedly another issue) ask AT&T.

But Facebook wants it both ways. They don’t admit liability for defamatory statements published on their site. They argue that they behave simply as a platform, a means of transmission. But they also reserve the right to censor content by restricting or deleting material they deem incorrect. So which is it? If they have the power to censor what we see why shouldn’t they be liable for the content?

This censoring of free speech applies broadly. Google favors some content over others in its search engine, Youtube has been on a tear not only deleting videos but replacing videos with others that express an alternative view. See where they plan to ban holocaust ‘denial’ (revisionist in any way) videos and offer wikipedia instead. Further they intend to offer the banned videos to researchers and NGOs “looking to understand hate in order to combat it,” thereby providing content only to a restricted class of their own choosing. Twitter inserts a page when a ‘controversial’ link is clicked warning the user that the link has been identified as  malware although Twitter admits that malware warnings are posted based on content.

What is it that compels these platforms to come down on both sides of the free speech issue? After all, by editing content Facebook becomes more like a  publisher and less like a mere platform. Facebook does so because it regularly gets brought before Congress to explain free speech congress doesn’t like. Facebook also defers to European countries that regulate speech.

Facebook argues that internet companies aren’t governments and they can restrict what they like. That’s why they don’t follow the First Amendment and instead enforce more restrictive rules in response to criticism of their content. See, for ex., the New Yorker on the ‘free speech excuse.’

I believe that major platforms have become the public square. Yet we allow Facebook to restrict our speech and they do so effectively. As owners of the public square they are uniquely positioned to and do silence  dissenters. Platforms take down posts that don’t fit their ‘standards, and they do so swiftly. Perhaps before we allow Facebook to be the arbitrator of free speech, we should rethink the present day meaning of a marketplace of ideas.

May 2, 2020 - Posted by | Civil Liberties, Full Spectrum Dominance | , ,

1 Comment »

  1. Yes. So much false news and facts on Facebook

    Like

    Comment by Shell-Shell's🐚tipsandtricks | May 2, 2020 | Reply


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