How much control should social media companies have over public discourse?

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November 6, 2017 by Paul Dughi

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You may not care that President Trump’s twitter account went dark for 11 minutes recently. Regardless of where you are on the political scale, maybe you should.

Trump has used Twitter for a way to bypass traditional media and get his message out unfiltered.  When someone working with a social media company can effectively mute the POTUS because he disagrees with his views, that’s a problem.  Maybe you’re a die-hard Democrat and thinks it’s a good thing someone shut down the Trump-ster.  But imagine if the same thing had been done to President Obama.  Would you feel differently?

“My Twitter account was taken down for 11 minutes by a rogue employee,” the President said via tweet.  “I guess the word must finally be getting out-and having an impact.”

How much control should social media companies have over public discourse?

It raises the question about how much control social media companies have over public discourse, whether they’ve created something that can even be controlled, and whether it should be controlled.

With a backdrop of Congressional investigations into Facebook ads and the role they may have played in the recent election, the platforms themselves are coming under scrutiny.

Is a company like Facebook allowed to have its own political viewpoint and control the conversation?  Or do they have to stay non-partisan?  Tough questions with no easy answers.

Certainly the company has the right to make its views known just as you have the right to stop doing business with the company if you don’t like it’s political.  The company has no legal responsibility to provide balance or opposing viewpoints.  In fact, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg has said repeatedly that Facebook is not a media company – that it is a platform for individuals to share views.

So do they have a responsibility to manage those views?

“We’re a new kind of platform for public discourse — and that means we have a new kind of responsibility to enable people to have the most meaningful conversations,” Zuckerberg said in a Facebook post, “and to build a space where people can be informed.”

Are social media companies really media companies with responsibilities or are they more similar to a town square?

Twitter initially reported that President Trump take-down was done by an employee, but later amended the statement to say it was a contractor on their last day working with Twitter.  It makes you wonder about the company’s internal security.

“We have implemented safeguards to prevent this from happening again. We won’t be able to share all details about our internal investigation or updates to our security measures, but we take this seriously and our teams are on it.” – Twitter via Twitter

twitter gov on trump

It does lead you to think about the amount of power a few tech leaders could have on the national discourse. Cloudflare CEO Matthew Prince was on CNN recently, being interviewing for his decision to kick a neo-Nazi group off his platform.  While he got praised by many for his decision, he also has concerns.

“I think it is really risky if you have a group of essentially 10 tech CEOs, that if you somehow offend all 10 of them,” Prince told CNN, “that you can effectively not be on the internet anymore.”

 

 

 

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