Social media platforms are under fire for allowing harmful content to spread rapidly on their platforms, calling to question whether content can be censored even if a public official is making the statements.
Platforms such as Twitter and Facebook are being questioned from both sides of the aisle for their policies on content management.
Republicans asked the CEOs about censorship of conservative posts compared to liberal content, to which Twitter and Facebook insisted that political ideologies played no part in post regulation.
On the other hand, Democrats zeroed in on whether more content moderation could reduce the amount of dangerous rhetoric and discrimination present on the platforms.
They cited the incident where Steve Bannon, former Donald Trump aide, called for the beheading of Dr. Anthony Fauci, one of the disease experts who lead the coronavirus response effort.
Following the Capitol riot earlier this month, Twitter and Facebook took action and permanently banned former President Donald Trump’s social media accounts. Twitter took it a step further and started mass deleting content that was affiliated with the conspiracy group QAnon.
Although Trump’s accounts have been encouraging the spread of misinformation and discriminatory statements, it took the platform over four years to permanently suspend his account.
Emily Berman, UH Law Center professor, said that platforms might hold back on suspending accounts under the president because the public views the president’s words as news.
“They make policy, they are unequivocally an important part of our system of self-governance and thus matters of importance for Americans to have access to,” said Berman. “They are therefore rightly hesitant to remove that feed from the public domain.”
Berman said another reason this could be is that tech companies aren’t keen on being heavily regulated by the government and probably deducted that suspending the president’s social media accounts would result in retaliation.
Social media companies can remove content if it’s deemed harmful by their company guidelines, however, there is a slim path they must walk to factor in freedom of speech.
“Private companies cannot violate free speech rights,” said Berman. “It is perfectly legitimate to argue, however, that they should be subject to some rules of the road, and to acknowledge that they provide a valuable means of expression for many, many Americans.”
Berman expressed that as a country, we are past due for a discussion on how social media platforms are a means of expression as well as a means of harm.
“It is one of the most difficult and most important questions of public policy we currently face, because the way we answer it will dictate the future of public debate and therefore the future of self-governance,” said Berman.