Are social media's recent bannings a freedom of expression issue?

Honestly, I’m not sure how true this is. I would imagine it’s actually probably easier to print up a newsletter than create a social media platform.

For your specific question re: Parler, it got angel investment money and some quick backing by conservative commentators. They also got some money from the Mercers. It’s about two years old, but it’s not entirely clear how long it took to develop (probably not that long, the back-end stuff is all standard I think, and it’s hosted by Amazon Web Services, not any in-house hardware).

But you have stated that having an audience is not part of freedom of expression. So if the government, or Twitter, prevents you from having an audience, you say that’s not a restriction on freedom of expression?

Or are you saying that it is a restriction on freedom of expression if the government does it, but it’s not a restriction on freedom of expression if the ISP does it? “Freedom of expression” is defined solely as being a right against government?

You’re correct. And a lot of what you say elsewhere in this post is correct too.

There are no useful analogies, to be honest. These platforms let users do things that have NEVER been possible in human history. They have audiences that would have been unimaginable just a few decades ago. In 5 minutes I can contact everybody in my kids’ school about a PTO meeting, update practice times for baseball, link a news article that my friends might find interesting, and post a cat picture that will make my family laugh. They are just insanely useful platforms.

But we need to be aware of the harms that come with them. The idea that powerful individuals with large followings can put out false, harmful, and inciting information without any fact-checking or balance is something that couldn’t happen before. Maybe it should be able to happen, but I think we have seen a few times in history what happens when powerful, charismatic leaders are given platforms to repeat falsehoods with no push back.

If the President went on TV and spouted lies, the folks on TV would quickly point out they were lies. If he does it on Twitter nothing happens. If I stand outside the capital and call for a mob to hang Mike Pence, I will likely get arrested, or at least ushered away. I can do it on Facebook and nothing happens.

I also worry about how the incentives both for the users (likes, follows, retweets) and for the platform (impressions, user data) can cause destructive behavior patterns.

None of this is easy to figure out.

I showed exactly how to do it in post 105 in this thread and I can do that far easier than printing up a newspaper. You don’t have to create a social media platform, you just have to install an existing one on an internet connected server.

It’s very true. If you want, I can go ahead and set one up in a few minutes when I get home tonight. I then can transmit my message to anyone in the world that wants to hear it.

I could use my printer to print out my blog, and then litter the streets with it, I suppose. I could hand them out to people. Seems a much more limited audience than the entire world.

And it’s not either/or, there is nothing stopping me from doing both.

It doesn’t really cost much, and as you said, all the back end stuff is pretty standard.

It may not be as easy to set up as a twitter account, but it’s not like it would need massive infrastructure.

Fair point, but I’m reasonably sure that will not give me capabilities similar to Twitter.

I guess it comes back to audience v. platform. That is, is Twitter worth anything without it’s users? I think it’s pretty clearly not. Just like my home-brew Twitter wouldn’t be. If I ever got significant number of users I imagine my home server would be overrun very quickly and I would need to move to a different hosting environment.

There are other unique features of social media that even things like blog posts and online forums don’t capture. As just one example, I’m exposed to some crazy ideas I don’t really gives a rats ass about because some friend on Facebook comments on it. Sure, I could block that friend’s comments from showing up in my feed, but it just shows that ideas posted on these platforms with these levels of user-base are far more widely disseminated than anything I can think of in human history.

I have no idea what you are trying to go for here, but it is not even close to relevant.

You are talking about someone or some entity actually taking steps to restrict my ability to speak. And then somehow trying to tie that in to having an audience.

Neither, and nothing even close.

BTW, twitter is not an ISP.

Right. I think we agree that shouting into the void in a way which nobody will hear (but could, theoretically hear) is trivially simple. It’s even more simple for a politician that can easily get his message out in any number of ways.

But if I want to actually have somebody hear my idea I think it’s more complicated than that. If I need 100 people to read my idea I think it’s probably more likely to succeed for less money if I just print up a newsletter and put it under windshields.

I guess one could argue that these platforms only happen to have all of the users now, and that any competitor could come in and easily displace them. But I don’t understand why that argument wouldn’t apply to any other monopoly ever. It seems clearer to me that the sheer number of users is a de facto barrier to entry to any possible competitor.

To me the circumstance is a public square dominated by a stage with very loud speakers. Others in the square talk. The owner of that stage can decide based on whatever factor they want who gets on their stage.

No one stops anyone from talking in the square. But pretty much what is heard is up to the owner of the stage to decide upon their whim.

Navalny’s concern that stage owners often end up trying to cull favor from autocrats seems cogent to me.

Yeah, they are damn useful, which is why them being free is also useful. Would it be as useful if you had to pay a subscription fee?

I’d argue that that would be much more restricitve. As it is, I don’t have to pay to see someone’s tweet, or their facebook, or their instagram, or anything else. If I did have to pay, then I would likely only pay for one of them, and not have access to the others.

I agree. Which is why many of these services come with a TOS that is more restrictive than the First Amendment. You can spout hate speech all you want on the corner, but you cannot on, for instance, the SDMB.

Well, on TV, I can yell at the TV and call him a liar. On twitter, I can actually reply to the tweet to do so.

He is called out by many in the media over the tweets that he lies on, both in their media, and on twitter itself.

Eh, inciting speech is under pretty strict scrutiny. Depending on how you phrased it, you may be arrested, but likely not, not unless you were actively leading a mob to assault the Capitol or something.

And that’s just what we are talking about. If you do it on facebook, then you are violating the TOS, and can be sanctioned by them.

Maybe they need to do a better job at that, but them doing a better job at policing hate speech and inciting language is exactly what is being argued against in this thread.

I have on several occasions compared our current situation to be similar to the story of the Tower of Babel in the bible. But really, we have gone through these transitions many times as our communications paradigms have changed. The printing press alone caused serious disruptions in government and church when it became a thing.

100% agreed, and that is why I am always suspect of anyone who thinks that they have an easy answer.

It’s designed to be as close to Twitter as possible without getting copyright violations.

No, you can’t send out a “tweet”, but you can send a “toot”. Heck, you can even rename it if you want, so a certain someone could send out a “trumpt”.

Of course you can’t “retweet”, but you could “boost” or “retoot” or “retrumpt” until the cows come home.

Here’s a live mastodon page for you to compare. For all intents and purposes, it’s Twitter with different names for things.

As for audience, no one is owed an audience. Since it keeps coming up, I repeat, “No one is owed an audience.” If they are, where the hell is mine? I’m both better looking and smarter than the carrot-in-chief (thank goodness for low bars).

And that is all that is guaranteed under any form of freedom of expression.

I disagree. I could set up a webserver for essentially free right now (or at least, when I get home). Anyone in the world (or at least those with access to the unfettered internet) could then access what I have to say.

If I printed up fliers, then that actually costs money. Then I have to spend my time going around and putting those fliers under those windshield wipers. The only people with access to what I have to say would be very geographically centered, and limited to how many fliers I am willing to print and to distribute.

Absolutely. And that is exactly why some of these social media companies are responding to the desires of their customers and users, and being more restrictive on hateful or inciting language. All it would take is one competitor to come along and provide a better social space, and everyone would flock to them.

People don’t have much invested in twitter or facebook, partly because they are not the ones paying for it. If someone came along and had something preferable to them, then they would go the way of myspace very quickly.

Most monopolies tend to have some sort of barrier to entry, whether it be owning of resources, of manufacturing capability, intellectual property, interoperability, or in the case of “natural monopolies” infrastructure based on public property.

Because the social media companies have no ownership of their product(users), and their product can choose to be a product for any other company on a whim.

Social media is a different paradigm, and comparing it to an actual public square has serious flaws.

The biggest being the fact that they want as many people as possible to be talking. They want as many people as possible to be listening. This actually lends itself to a more democratic policing of speech.

An autocrat cannot tell twitter what to do, an autocrat has been trying that for 4 years and not only failed, ended up being booted off himself. The users, OTOH, actually can and do tell twitter what to do, and twitter has little choice but to listen, of find itself replaced by a social media platform that will.

The second, of course, is that there is no one that owns a stage. Anyone at all can put one up, and they can be heard by anyone who wishes to listen.

As Friendster, MySpace, FourSquare, GooglePlus, Vine, Ello, Yik Yak, Bebo, Orkut, and many others can attest.

TikTok (Douyin) launched just three years ago and is one of the most popular social media sites in the world based on active user counts.

I agree with this; there should be some understood minimal obligations to ensure that companies as large as influential as twitter, facebook, and others are not injuring the public interest.

Personally, I’d rather see a set of regulatory standards or agreed upon framework than to have social media companies arbitrarily tolerating, and thereby encouraging, outrageous speech for nearly a decade, only to suddenly pull the plug on these accounts when the consequences become apparent. They had been warned of the consequences for years. Twitter and Facebook did not in any way ban these accounts for violating their standards; they banned them because of the public backlash against them.

They should compelled to adopt standards that prevent patently false information from spreading on their platforms.

I really like this post. There is no easy answer. I disagree with posters on this thread but I understand their point. We’re all just trying to pull out the least-bad option from a murky pool.

But when does a company become a social media company?

If I am hosting a dozen people on my personal blog, run off my own server, am I a social media company?

I don’t really see how the government can tell companies that they must be more restrictive than the government is allowed to be.

Something that is illegal speech, that’s easy. But if it’s not illegal, then it seems as though the government telling a social media company that they may not allow it isn’t much different from the government itself restricting speech.

Public pressure, consequences put on social media companies by its users and its customers, “cancel culture”, if you will, seems the only effective way to rein in such behaviors without having the government itself putting itself in the position of restricting speech.

That’s a fair question to consider, but that doesn’t mean we should leave the question hanging in the air without an attempt to answer or it.

In any case, we have to reckon with the fact that, shall we say, certain social media companies are very real out-sized influence and there ought to be a way to establish some standards.

The square is almost infinitely huge and everyone can have a stage. I currently have two personal stages and that’s not including various social media presences, nor any message boards. These are stages where I, and only I, can control the content. If I wanted a third stage (or fourth, fifth, sixth, etc.), I could have it in minutes. Everyone else can have their own version of this. What they can’t have is a guaranteed audience of people surrounding their stage listening to them. Nor should they be allowed to get onto my stage (with my audience) if I don’t want them to, unless my reason for barring them is based on them belonging to a protected class.

I don’t know that you should, but even there, when does a personal social media platform become a place of public accommodation?

I’d say that if it were open to the public, then you should take anyone who can conform to your TOS. However, if it’s your personal platform, invite only, then, while it would certainly be uncool to remove people due to them being a protected class, I don’t think it should be or would be illegal.