Spooky in Silicon Valley: The Slippery Slope of Speech

The first amendment and its corresponding value of freedom of speech are central to the success of freedom and democracy. Yet the subject is a very slippery slope. How can we ensure that people are not silenced or discouraged from expressing their rightful opinions and beliefs while also cultivating a climate in which we minimize hatred and disinformation? At what point does a certain level of speech become unacceptable? Does limiting any type of speech contradict the first amendment? According to Supreme Court precedent: no (see Schenck v. United States, 1919). Regardless, this cycle of thoughts could spin in my head forever. The conflict has recently come to a head between two of Silicon Valley’s most prominent leaders.

On Wednesday, Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey announced that all political advertisements will be banned from his website. The rule will be officially published in mid-November and will take effect soon after. He cited the effect that “highly optimized and targeted political messages” have on votes that influence millions of lives. Dorsey recognizes and praises the power and effectiveness of commercial advertising, but such advertising translates into serious risk in the field of politics. Critics of the policy argue that the ad ban does not affect what users can tweet and share on their own, but I believe that this reason is exactly why this ban works–why it does not constitute a threat to free speech. It can become difficult to objectively determine exactly what information is “false” without injecting bias in an incredibly hostile political climate. Therefore, users must continue to possess the right to tweet and share content, even if it contains blatant inaccuracies. Disinformation will unfortunately always be out there and be pushed by various people. Twitter is merely working to stop the spread of purchased, subsidized types of disinformation via ads.

Image courtesy of Business Insider

 

In stark contrast, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg has proposed no solution to the problem. During his testimony before Congress just a week earlier, Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez asked him several questions covering similar topics of political advertisements and fact-checking:

AOC: “Would I be able to run ads on Facebook targeting Republicans in primaries saying that they voted for the Green New Deal?….” 

Zuckerberg: “Congresswoman, I, uh, I don’t know the answer to that off the top of my head… probably?”

Image courtesy of Vanity Fair

 

This exchange depicts the exact issue. I am an advocate for free speech and I respect that Facebook shares this value. Yet there is virtually no concerted effort being made on Facebook’s end to stop the rampant spread of lies to the American public on its platform. Twitter’s approach may have its flaws and may be far from a permanent solution to fake news, but it’s a start that Facebook will never be able to say they spearheaded.

Regardless of media platforms’ efforts or lack thereof to stem disinformation, it has become part of our digital reality. It is now a necessary skill of the American people to search out the truth for themselves by reading multiple news sources and not take anything they see online at face value.

 

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