Trump ban sparks fears over power of Big Tech

Last straw: Twitter says it had to act because Trump’s account incited violence.

Has Big Tech gone too far? As social media sites slap bans on Donald Trump, some are applauding their firm stance – while others worry it sets a dangerous precedent for free speech.

“I think that the ban of Donald Trump on Twitter is an unacceptable act of censorship”, the thread began. “A decision”, it continued, “based on emotions and personal political preferences”.

Who was writing? The Russian opposition leader and pro-democracy activist, Alexei Navalny.

Twitter announced it would ban Trump’s account on Friday. Facebook, Instagram and Reddit followed suit.

Trump is not the only one finding himself deplatformed. Millions of users were affected when Parler was taken off Amazon’s servers.

While Parler was a hotbed of conspiracy theories, it was also the main competitor to mainstream social media sites. Some think it is wrong that Amazon, a private company, was able to shut it down.

Twitter has defended its decision by arguing that it had to ban Trump’s account to prevent further violence. Supporters of the ban point out that incitement to violence is not protected under free speech laws.

Some worry that this decision has set a precedent that could lead to social media platforms censoring voices they do not like.

Others think it could turn out to be the dawn of a new era in the history of the internet. They suggest that this case proves Big Tech needs to be regulated democratically.

Has Big Tech gone too far?

Antisocial media

Yes. Twitter’s ban of Trump, along with Amazon’s decision to no longer host Parler, means two private companies have decided that millions of people should not be able to exchange ideas. Big Tech is a threat to everyone’s free speech.

No. Whether we like it or not social media platforms are here to stay, that means their owners must have a responsibility to protect us from misinformation and incitement of violence. Trump was banned after violating Twitter’s rules: there is no evidence that social media sites want to censor opinions.

You Decide

  1. Should politicians have social media accounts at all?

Activities

  1. Design a logo for your own social media platform and write down some of the rules you would establish for your users.

Some People Say...

“We assumed that we use social media to connect, but we learned that connection is how social media uses us.”

Shoshana Zuboff (1951 - ), American sociologist

What do you think?

Q & A

What do we know?
Most people agree that governments all over the world are still struggling to respond to the challenges posed by the internet. Sociologist Shoshana Zuboff argues that the internet is totally unprecedented in human history, meaning that we have not yet devised the right language to describe and understand it. As the internet has come to play an important role in the democratic process, it has become more urgent for governments to take action on it.
What do we not know?
There is some debate over whether “free speech” laws apply to private companies. In the USA, constitutional lawyers argue that the First Amendment only prevents Congress from imposing limits on free speech, not private companies. However, before the 1970s it was common for private organisations to be prosecuted for violating free speech rights. Since last year in the UK, social media companies have had a “duty of care” requiring them to regulate the content on their platforms.

Word Watch

Alexei Navalny
A Russian politician who has been a strong critic of President Vladimir Putin. He tried to run for president himself in 2018 but was stopped by the Supreme Court. Last year he almost died after being poisoned by the Russian secret service.
Parler
A social media platform set up by conservatives who believed that Twitter and Facebook were censoring them. Its founding principle was total free speech and it imposed no restrictions on content, but it was accused of providing a safe space for bigotry and conspiracy theories.
Amazon
Amazon Web Services, a subsidiary of Amazon, is the world’s largest cloud storage system. It hosts a number of other websites, giving it the effective power to shut them down by withdrawing its services.
Incitement to violence
One of the oldest exceptions to the principle of free speech, articulated by the English philosopher who is seen as the father of freedom of expression, John Stuart Mill. Mill argued that the state may ban speech that is clearly intended to cause harm to others.

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