Freedom of speech is a sacred right in America. It is not merely a privilege. Of course, we must recognize that, in the strictest sense, the Constitution applies the free-speech mandate to Congress and the laws that it makes. But the principle of unfettered expression is clear for everyone. Let the people speak.
A Public Utility?
According to Statistica, Facebook had 2.7 billion users as of the second quarter of 2020. Now, we won’t quibble over how many of those were actually unique Facebook users. Let’s just stipulate that there were a lot. So what responsibilities does Facebook have to offer freedom of speech to everyone who uses the platform?
Some would argue that they are a private company, and therefore not subject to the same rules as a government entity. But you would have to say that they are really a publicly traded company – not simply privately owned by Mark Zuckerberg. Nonetheless, whether public or private, Facebook should not in any case violate the principles of free speech or equal treatment of its customers.
The finer legal issues are beyond the scope of this article – and of my personal expertise. The question that arises, however, with such a large user base is this: Could Facebook be considered a public utility? Such matters are much in discussion in regards to the Big Tech firms of today: Facebook, Apple, Amazon, Twitter, and Google.
The Abridgment of Freedom
If Big Tech has such monumental power, shouldn’t these companies be reined in at some point? If they have such influence that they can destroy competitors or individuals that they don’t like, something must be done.
The actions of Twitter, Facebook, Amazon, and others in January 2021 must be carefully investigated. Suspending the accounts of the president of the United States should be considered a severe abridgement of the freedom of speech. The shutting down of competitors and the silencing the voices of dissent must all be addressed.
In the early days of the internet, an effort was made to protect those who provided a platform for free speech. Section 230 was part of the Communications Decency Act (CDA) of 1996. It stated:
“No provider or user of an interactive computer service shall be treated as the publisher or speaker of any information provided by another information content provider.”
This “carve out” meant that companies like Twitter and Facebook could not be sued in court for the information expressed by their users. They got a pass. The heads of these two companies are now billionaires — thanks in part to Section 230.
The Power of the People
There is no doubt that Mark Zuckerberg and Jack Dorsey are very rich and powerful. Their executive decisions affect billions of people. The communication channels that they provide can make or break a company or a politician. But their power is not ultimate.
It all goes back to the users. One or two social media users can’t have much impact. But there is strength in numbers. What would happen if a million users suddenly closed their social media accounts? Or how about 10 million users? Or 100 million?
The social media giants would have no power at all without the people who use them. Face it. They need us. If tomorrow all the users shut down their Facebook accounts, or their Twitter accounts, what would become of Zuckerberg and Dorsey?
What did everyone do before social media? We met friends for coffee. We called them on the phone. We wrote letters, or sent emails. We used instant messaging tools of the time.
What can we do tomorrow to communicate with friends and family — without social media? The same. Social media is not as necessary as food and water and air. It is superfluous. We can all shed social media like you would throw off a coat on a warm spring day. It’s that easy.
Okay, it may take some getting used to. I have closed my Twitter account along with several others. My Facebook account is deactivated. And now I am blogging. That’s not so bad, is it? What about you?