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How Social Media Stifles Free Speech

How Social Media Stifles Free Speech
By Jeff Trag

Originally Published by the Gatestone Institute.

One of the greatest contemporary battles for individual liberty and freedom of the press is being conducted in cyber space.

Today, political, journalistic and corporate elites are in the process of trying to control, and even rewrite, “story lines” of history and current events with which they might disagree, and that they see slipping through their fingers.

It is a form of censorship akin to banning the printing press or preventing open debate in the literal and proverbial public square.

Facebook, for example, also often permits real hate speech while banning websites that expose this hate speech.

There are, however, constitutional and legal measures that can and should be taken to protect Americans from having their right to express themselves as they wish – without causing harm to public safety or engaging in illegal activity — violated every time they log in to their social media accounts.

New laws need to be codified to prevent what have become virtual utilities such as Facebook, Google, Twitter and YouTube from steering debate in a particular ideological direction.

One argument against holding these social media giants accountable is that they are private companies, and that consumers can simply stop using them.

This claim is disingenuous, however: these companies have an effective monopoly on expression in the international public sphere. Although people are ostensibly free not to use Facebook or Twitter, there are no other comparable alternative platforms at their disposal.

Even more problematic is that those platforms are free to delete the pages and posts of users they deem to have violated whatever they decide are “community standards.” This includes judging content supportive of, for example, restricting migration in Europe.

No one should own the public square, least of all social media, which is merely the vehicle for transporting members of that public to that square. Any attempt by social media companies to curtail the people’s right to access lawful information should be penalized.

Congress, therefore, might pass legislation specifically adapted to this new arena.

Ultimately, the only way to keep the United States safe is by protecting its citizens’ ability to discuss ideas without fear. If we lose our freedom of expression on the internet, we lose our democracy.

As U.S. founding father Thomas Jefferson said of the First Amendment: “Our liberty depends on the freedom of the press, and that cannot be limited without being lost.”

Jeff Trag is based in Tlaquepaque, Jalisco, Mexico.

Original Article

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