01 March 2018

Freedom, Americans and the First Amendment

Recently, Facebook has been restricting the content of some political posts. If you hit on the "wrong" topic, Facebook will not only kill the post, you will receive a rather sharp note suggesting that if you persist, your subscription and access will be either limited or ended. Lately, Twitter has taken a similar view.

Ok, so here we have some issues. Facebook and Twitter are private enterprises. As such, they are not constrained by the First Amendment. That is, the rule against censorship requires that governments not interfere with free speech. Corporations and individuals are not government. They are governed by their contracts with their clients, you know the stuff you never read when you join a service like Facebook.

The contracts do two things. First the set out all the reasons the service is not a common carrier. There is a good reason for that, a common carrier is subject to price limits, and they have to "carry" any and all legal traffic. Unless the traffic violates law eg. child porn, you have to allow it. Not where the Internet services want to be. And because they have great attorneys, no one reads the agreement, they avoid common carrier status.

The other thing the agreements do is permit the company to be the sole arbiter of what is acceptable content. Yup that is in there. And that, not the First Amendment is relevant when they remove content.

In a sense this is case closed. Facebook can censor, as can Twitter. But(!) when either does, a stream of messages complain about discrimination and censorship. The First Amendment and Freedom of Speech are almost always mentioned. Which proves again that most folks do not read the agreement.

Herein the problem. Americans expect the freedom of speech to extend everywhere. And we react angrily when it doesn't. And therefore a balancing act. FB and Twitter have to read trillions of words, and decide if the negative publicity is worth the maintenance of the standard. And given the sheer volume of posts, they simply must use software. There is no way humans can be the arbiters of acceptable.

So what to do if you are censored and think it was unfair? Well, you can have a blog, they are free and generally a more open place. You can contact the company and protest, but they do NOT make that easy. This constraint of free speech is a part of our electronic age. I really do not think much is likely to change. Welcome to the future.

No comments:

St Laika's

Click to view my Personality Profile page