Following the insurrection at the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6, social media and Big Tech companies responded by limiting accounts on their platforms that they considered dangerous. While this may not initially ring any alarm bells for some, it is a topic worth giving a second thought.
Former President Donald Trump was removed from Twitter, YouTube, Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat and TikTok.
The bans themselves are not problematic — Trump broke social media platforms’s Terms of Services, and is being tried in the U.S. Senate for inciting an insurrection, a violation of free speech in the First Amendment. But, Trump’s bans sparked a conversation on censorship and social media bias.
We live in a world where social media has a significant impact on our day-to-day lives and the way we view the world around us. A Pew Research study published in February 2019 shows that of US adults, 73% use YouTube, 69% use Facebook, 37% use Instagram, 24% use Snapchat and 22% use Twitter.
Nearly three-quarters of Americans (90% of Republicans and 59% of Democrats) believe social media companies censor certain political viewpoints, according to another Pew Research study.
Furthermore, Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey has admitted to left-leaning bias on Twitter. But, as with many of the allegations of bias levied against social media companies, he said these biases do not affect company policy.
Proving bias in the removal of social media accounts can be difficult since there’s no concrete evidence. But, Terms of Service have loopholes that can be subjectively interpreted. In some instances, inciting violence is easy to see. In other cases, determining what has led to violence can depend on who’s interpreting what happened. Social media platforms often become toxic. Rules are in place allowing certain suggestive violence given a comedic context. But when reading text on a screen, what is or is not comedy is not always clear.
What is most important is that social media platforms are consistent with their enforcement of policy. In addition, the government should be aware of the activity of these platforms. Hearings, such as ones that have occurred with CEOs Mark Zuckerberg (Facebook) or Dorsey, are worth having if boundaries appear to be crossed.
A completely objective policy is near impossible to achieve because social media platforms cannot predict every issue that will occur. But what is important is that these companies are aware of their biases and that they interpret subjective policies fairly.
In a day and age where social media is integral to communication, the onus is on platforms and their executives to ensure the rules are enforced equally.
— By Staff
Originally published in the Feb. 2 edition of the Octagon.