Saturday, May 04, 2019

Should platform access become a civil right?

Given Facebook’s massive deplatforming of at least seven “conservatives” Thursday in its Purge 4.0, some, such as Will Chamberlain, are arguing now that platform access should be viewed as a civil right, link

He argues that this could be enforced now through the courts with “private action”.  I’m not sure I concur yet.

He wants the courts to enforce the right to private action for all lawful speech on platforms that would be protected under the First Amendment, even though they are hosted by private companies.
Section 230, while it enables the companies to offer the users opportunities to generate content with moderation, still does not prevent platforms from enforcing their own political judgments in monitoring content.

One obvious problem is that Facebook is an international company and operates globally in countries where free speech is less absolute than in the U.S., and where tribal (and often religious or sometimes racial) ideologies have much more sway on less individualistic persons than they do in the U.S., just as these ideologies (often related to populism) matter a lot more generally among people who feel left behind economically. It has to be concerned that posts even originating from Americans under American ideas of individualized free speech may in some cases trigger incidents in other parts of the world, even unintentionally.  Somewhat as a counterweight to that idea, it is true that in most of the world, private weapons ownership is indeed less common than in the U.S.;  First and Second Amendment ideas work together. 

Around the world, many countries or observers want to treat social media companies as "publishers" rather than utilities, which by definition means they choose the content providers which reinforce their brands;  the only public remedy then is to have enough competition among the big platforms.  
As I noted Thursday, companies do have a right to protect their brands according to the political biases of their clients (advertisers), but they don’t have a right to collude or form monopolies.
I’ve talked about “conflict of interest” in the workplace where a manager’s public speech could cause tensions with subordinates or consumers.  It would be a good question, for example, to look at the “speech rights” of someone who acts as an insurance agent and who makes a living on commissions but whose activity could affect company reputation. Is a “commission” for a salesman comparable to advertising income for a content creator?  Not exactly, because a sales person or financial planner, for example, represents his company’s values, not his own (“we give you the words”).  But that should not be true when a content creator speaks on a social media platform.

Yet Facebook seems to be interpreting harmful speech very broadly in terms of groups of people and minorities as such rather than as an individual rights issue. Milo’s speech is silly, perhaps, but only harmful to minorities if you assume they need to become combative as groups to protect themselves.

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