A letter to my Senators and Congressman:
It must be nice to have one’s toast buttered on both sides and live both fat and happy. Such is the case with social media platforms who have developed the leading communication channels of our time and claim both “property rights” and “freedom of speech”.
When the telephone and radio were the technology by which people communicated both in personal and mass reach, it would have been wholly unthinkable, in fact tyranny, to block a radio transmission or to simply “not connect your call” to the person you wished to speak to. What if any clerk or letter carrier at the post office simply chose to discard a letter or letters and obstruct it from its destination; a federal crime, is it not?
Today, social media companies like YouTube, Facebook, Twitter, and others not only claim freedom from libel for the content, but also editorialize in deciding what can and cannot be said on their platforms. By these means and others they are controlling delivery, discarding, shadow banning, and demonetizing whatever and whoever strikes their fancy.
If they provide a public forum, a platform, then freedom of speech should be supported and upheld as the highest mark for which they strive. If they claim property rights, then their editorial guidelines should be clearly stated and should be that to which they should be held continually and legally responsible.
Either, my dear Senators and representative Congress-person, you stand for freedom of speech and personal property rights or you do not. If you encroach upon either, you are in violation of your oath of office to support and defend our Constitution of the United States of America and it’s connected Bill of Rights.
Here’s the case: They have developed the platforms and own their business, but no communication platform to date has been conceived like unto what these platforms and their reach over the internet has become. Everyone can now have a voice in the public square; everyone. While the technology of the internet is nearly as old as I (back to the mid-60’s to Arpanet) the far-reaching impact on society and culture is still taking shape. You, as our elected representative leaders in the public forum, are responsible for shaping its legal impact on society.
While it is certainly their company prerogative to control content on the platform that they developed and which they own, they should not then be able to claim freedom from libel for any information that is published there. If you exercise control over the content, then you should be held legally responsible for the content.
One solution for this jumble of legality is to combine both the weight of subscriptions to the content (a positive community vote) with the ability of the public to both not subscribe (absence of support) with a personal “down-vote” (a negative community vote) which reduces the exposure in their own content feed. Even a down-vote should not affect another person’s content, as they should see anything with related topics, keywords, or that published by the same publisher. Such a system would remove editorial libel from “platform providers”.
If the platform continues to claim “property rights” and insists on governing and policing content, then they should not be protected from libel and slander as they have the ability and the opportunity to control content. On the type of platforms in question where the number of contributors numbers in the millions, such policing would simply be uneconomical if not nearly impossible. Their platform then would have to be restricted to a number of contributors, possibly tailored to a specific topic, and limited to publishers with particular credentials; then we’d have a newspaper website and an obvious and historical target for libel and slander.
Trace “property rights” in this situation back to the individual contributing to these platforms, just as a refreshing change of pace. The platforms sells the personal information that they are able to glean from individual participation to advertisers who target market to those with a higher degree of interest in their service or product. They sell participant information. That information belongs to the individual.
No acceptance of a EULA (end user license agreement) should remove the rights to control their own personal information from the individual. So, either these platforms should “revenue share” since they are both collecting and marketing what does not belong to them, or they should give every user the ability to “opt-in” or control the type and amount of personal information made available through their registration and their activities while on the platform. If the platform includes a bot or cookies that continue on the participant’s computer, phone, laptop, tablet, or other device once they have left the platform, that level of “tracking” and intrusion into a person’s privacy should be both divulged and offered as an option to opt in or out.
It’s time Congress and the Senate gets up to date on this information and gets active in curbing the abuse of these social media platforms to harvest information that does not belong to them, to claim inoculation from libel because they do not publish the content, and then to decide who gets to speak and what gets said.
Even the most asinine among us should be afforded the freedom to speak. That doesn’t mean, however, that you are required to listen to them.