First Amendment Forever?

Paula LaBrot

Folks, our government is in the process of asking private companies to regulate content on social media sites.

Journalist Glenn Greenwald writes, “Silicon Valley executives, required by law and by their nature to maximize profit and please the most powerful, are the absolute last people we should want doing that.”  

Facebook, Twitter, Youtube, Instagram, Microsoft, and Google have powerful influence. They are, in the words of activist John Laurits, the new “Information Oligarchy. An immense amount of power in the hands of a very few.

This very paper, the Messenger Mountain News, carries the banner “First Amendment Forever” with its name. But the above mentioned private companies do not have to follow the rule of law with regard to the legally protected freedom of expression included in the First Amendment. They have their own rules (terms of service). They can and have censored users’ content.

In the “Harvard Law Review Forum,” Margorie Heins encapsulates the problem asking “…with free speech policymaking having shifted to private companies…. what role is left for the U.S. courts…?”  Private companies can legally censor what they want and determine what speech is acceptable or unacceptable, even though they are using public networks. Users have no legal recourse to being silenced.

There is an old expression in journalism—if it isn’t reported, it didn’t happen.

Sixty percent of Americans get their news from social media, according to Chava Gourarie for the” Columbia Journalism Review.” News sites and social media are intertwining more and more. The question of who is in charge of what news you get is a major futurist issue. We are not just talking about auto-algorithm censorship determining your feed based on harvested data from your internet usage. We are talking about surrendering ourselves to deliberate, politicized human censorship. Remember, what can happen to one group, can happen to all.

Writing for Paste Magazine, Isabel Thottam reports, “Twitter has been caught removing tweets, hiding tweets, and deleting trending hashtags. Such accusations have opened the doors to how such a prominent platform—which sources the news for over half the population—gets away with censorship before our very eyes.”

Buysatellite.net reports Facebook “has been under fire lately over some of the social platform’s questionable business practices. These include blocking or ‘shadow-banning’ content for political reasons and limiting the reach of ads customers had paid for.”

Often, insidiously, users don’t even realize they are being censored. Their tweets or posts go out, but no one ever sees them. One of my students has a podcast called China Uncensored that used to appear regularly on my feed. I haven’t seen it for a while. I can still get it, if I search for it, but it is not coming like it used to, even though my algorithmic data collection should recognize it as a favorite of mine. Hmmmm.

Why should Silicon Valley billionaires get to create public policy about regulating the internet? I agree with Glenn Greenwald, considering Facebook, Google, YouTube, and Microsoft all made deals with the totalitarian government in China to tow the government line in terms of limiting free expression, because they want a piece of that 1.3 billion people market.

It’s not just China. British journalist Douglas Murry reports a, “disturbing September incident in which German chancellor Angela Merkel was caught on an open mike, asking Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg if he would help suppress “anti-immigration” postings… and he replied that he was already working on it… it’s clear that Merkel, and every other censor around the world, can usually get Internet providers to play ball, either through ideological sympathy or intimidation. Russia seems especially eager to play China’s game of telling social media titans they need to either get with the government program or find themselves locked out of huge authoritarian markets.”

HELP IS AVAILABLE

People around the world are mobilizing. Online Censorship is an organization that offers users a place to report incidents of social media censorship in hopes of bringing more transparency to the process. The site, which launched in November 2015, is both a resource for social media users looking for recourse and a way to collect data and track censorship across multiple platforms. And there is good old Wikileaks as well. Plus, what is left of the print media.

Sure, we want to eliminate hate speech and Isis recruiting. But, as reporter John Hayward writes, “Absolute protection for speech as an inalienable right has given way to bitter squabbling over how much free expression should be sacrificed for various, ostensibly noble goals and who the censors will be.”

I, as a freedom loving futurist, say, give me all of it…the good, the bad, the ugly. I treasure diversity, especially of ideas.

First amendment forever with all its warts!  

Vamos a ver.

Paula LaBrot
Paula LaBrot

Paula LaBrot is a 30-year resident of Topanga, a futurist with a special interest in the uncharted waters of cyberspace. plabrot@messengermountainnews.com

1 Comment
  1. Thank you for this very important article. It is on point, IMHO. In an age of name calling, political
    correctness, and hurt feelings, people have lost touch woth how critical first ammendment rights are. The first ammendment is there to protect the unpopluar speach.
    From ACLU David Shapiro:
    “The First Amendment really was designed to protect a debate at the fringes. You don’t need the courts to protect speech that everybody agrees with, because that speech will be tolerated. You need a First Amendment to protect speech that people regard as intolerable or outrageous or offensive — because that is when the majority will wield its power to censor or suppress, and we have a First Amendment to prevent the government from doing that.“

    Thank you for this article!

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