It’s not Facebook’s job to censor the content coming through my news feed — or yours. Despite the staggering growth of Twitter, Google, Facebook and other websites, social media remains voluntary. You don’t have to use it.
That fact didn’t stop a gaggle of senators from insisting last week that if social media giants don’t regulate themselves, Washington will do it for them. And it hasn’t erased the public sentiment that these internet companies should protect us from ourselves.
Russian ads or not, no one is forcing any individual to sign up for these services and fuel their growth. If you don’t like what Facebook is serving up, the most effective way to fight back is to not use it or do your own research. It’s not to ask some midlevel FCC bureaucrat to make sure the “Fake News” has been weeded out.
This exercise — the congressional grandstanding, the forced mea culpa from Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg after last fall’s election and the threats of speech regulation — seems like little more than a desperate attempt for some to find the real reason Donald Trump was elected. Social media has become the boogeyman for his victory even as new research shows far fewer Americans actually engage politically on sites like Twitter than previously thought.
Both conservative and liberal talking heads have advocated for strong regulations on the content of these sites. But nothing could be less conservative than to shy away from the personal responsibility one is required to exercise in retrieving news and information, online or elsewhere. And liberals are all for anything that discredits the validity of Trump’s election.
But there are myriad concerns with holding social media companies responsible for the content on their sites.
Of course, these companies are free to require any code of conduct they wish from their users. They should shut down harassers, help mitigate other interpersonal conflicts and shut down or report those who make direct threats.
But they’re not responsible to bar people who hold controversial or even hateful views from their site. And they certainly shouldn’t be — can’t be — liable to prevent such speech from being shared on their sites.
No one holds phone companies responsible for terrorists who communicate on their networks. Even after the San Bernardino shootings, Apple had no easy time giving the government access to the shooter’s iPhone.
And since social media sites are information conduits, not information creators, their editorial discretion should be nonexistent.
Who would get to decide what speech is real and what is fake? What is proper and what is improper? What crosses into a dangerous philosophy and what is educational?
We’ve already established that social media governs a large part of our public discourse. That discourse needs discretion and civility on the part of the users, not Big Brother telling everyone what they can and can’t think.
Barring dangerous ideas from these sites isn’t only unconstitutional, but it smells of book bans and other attempts at censorship that would make the U.S. more like Russia, not minimize its influence over Americans’ thoughts.
These subjective decisions shouldn’t be regulated by congressional speech police. They should — and can — be decided by the users viewing the content.
We’ve fought wars over the right to have such personal responsibility, and it’s a sad day when Americans are requesting the speech they voluntarily seek out to be filtered for them.