The recent controversy surrounding Twitter’s decision to permanently ban several high-profile accounts has sparked a renewed debate about free speech and the role of social media companies in upholding it. This issue is complex and multifaceted, with no easy answers.
On one hand, companies like Twitter are expected to act as guardians of free speech and uphold the principle of free expression. In this view, Twitter should be a “global town hall” where all voices can be heard and where people can engage in meaningful dialogue with one another. However, as companies operating in the private sector, they are also entitled to their own moderation policies and the right to decide who can participate in their community.
One way to think about this issue is to consider a local bar and restaurant. Everyone is welcome to come in, eat, drink, and talk among themselves. But what if someone stands up at the bar and starts yelling at other patrons? They might start screaming about how Fauci is a crook, how Jews are Satan, or how inflation is ruining our country. People start to yell back, dinner is ruined for some, and a fight might break out. As the bar owner, you have the right to free speech too. You also have the right to decide who can participate in your community and whether or not someone’s behavior is acceptable.
The challenge we face with social media companies is that they are more powerful than most countries. When the people who use these platforms, like scientists, journalists, or even presidents, cause a ruckus and spark a debate, and then get banned, the implications and consequences can be dramatic. We are seeing this play out in real-time and how these decisions impact the most important issues of our time.
Furthermore, our elected officials are often unable to keep up with the times and technology. This leaves us with a group of people, just like us, trying to do their best and make difficult decisions. However, these people also have their own biases and ideas of what is right and wrong.
Ultimately, the debate about free speech on social media is likely to continue for some time. While some may believe that these platforms should be bastions of free expression, others may argue that it is more important to protect users from harmful content.
The echo chamber of social media turns nuanced issues into black-and-white issues, and this is one issue, that has a lot of nuance to it.