We are witnessing yet another purge on major social media networks from Twitter to YouTube. Conservative and libertarian voices are among those being banned or suspended for vague violations of the terms of service, including Stefan Molyneux, whose 15-year old channel was flagged for promoting “hate speech.”
Meanwhile, the general climate of free speech and expression is perhaps at an all time low, with cancel culture accelerating to the point that we might question how much longer our 1st Amendment protections will be worth anything.
However, I’ve taken a stand against the government regulation of social media, despite the de-platforming of voices that are quote-unquote “on our side.” The reason has to do with these companies’ status as private actors, who themselves have speech rights. To force them to publish content against their will - no matter how mild or offensive - cuts against the Framers’ vision of the 1st Amendment.
John Samples, Vice President of the Cato Institute, is part of a solution that I can get behind. As a member of the Oversight Board, he is among a diverse group of academics that will hold Facebook accountable for its policies to maximize freedom of expression without allowing its users to post harmful content. Admittedly, this is a fine line, but the power always resides in the end with users who are free to exit the platform for “freer” alternatives.
As we’ve seen with this past week’s exodus of conservatives from Twitter to the knock-off app Parler, the problem of content moderation runs much deeper than the ideological leanings of its founders. Parler quickly earned a reputation for being trigger-happy with bans, despite its claim to allow any speech that would be allowed “on the streets of New York City.” Those targeted appear to be people who dared to question that app’s less than transparent terms of service.
Twitter proves that whoever invents and sustains lively discussion on the online equivalent of the public square can get rich. This explains why the big companies are now outsourcing the role of moderation to credible outsiders like the Oversight Board, and have a vested interest in solving the problem.
This Sunday, Samples joined me for the full hour to discuss the process the Oversight Board will use to balance concerns about free speech against the need to prevent certain forms of speech which have never been protected (i.e., inciting violence).
The market of ideas is alive and well on the show of #ideanotattitude.