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Voices.

After last week’s protest at the US Capital, Twitter “deplatformed” President Donald Trump. This was after two tweets made by Trump were deemed to be “inciting” riots:

Twitter said after reviewing Mr Trump’s account in the context of the riot at the Capitol, it was concerned about two tweets he sent on Friday that Twitter said could incite violence.

They were:

  • “The 75,000,000 great American Patriots who voted for me, AMERICA FIRST, and MAKE AMERICA GREAT AGAIN, will have a GIANT VOICE long into the future. They will not be disrespected or treated unfairly in any way, shape or form!!!”
  • “To all of those who have asked, I will not be going to the Inauguration on January 20th.”

The first tweet, the company said, was received by some supporters as further confirmation that the November 3 election was not legitimate — but in fact, the notion of widespread voter fraud is a baseless claim.

The use of the words “American Patriots” to describe some of his supporters was also interpreted as support for those committing violent acts at the Capitol.

The company said the second tweet could serve as encouragement to those considering violent acts that the inauguration would be a “safe” target since he would not be attending.

“Our determination is that the two Tweets above are likely to inspire others to replicate the violent acts that took place on January 6, 2021, and that there are multiple indicators that they are being received and understood as encouragement to do so,” Twitter wrote.

You’d have to be wearing some serious tinfoil hats to believe those two posts are “inciting” anything.

Furthermore, at the rally prior to going to the Capital building, Trump made some remarks which concluded with this:

So we’re going to, we’re going to walk down Pennsylvania Avenue, I love Pennsylvania Avenue, and we’re going to the Capitol and we’re going to try and give… The Democrats are hopeless. They’re never voting for anything, not even one vote. But we’re going to try and give our Republicans, the weak ones, because the strong ones don’t need any of our help, we’re going to try and give them the kind of pride and boldness that they need to take back our country.

So let’s walk down Pennsylvania Avenue. I want to thank you all. God bless you and God bless America. Thank you all for being here, this is incredible. Thank you very much. Thank you.

No “incitement” there either.

If you want to see what “incitement” may look like, take a look at this:

That’s New York Senator Cory Booker telling people to go out and “get in the face of Congress members.”

His words were defended by Democrats:

Democratic strategist Rochelle Ritchie responded by saying that Booker wasn’t inciting violence, but instead was only encouraging people address congressmen about homelessness.

Trump calls for a peaceful protest, Booker calls for confrontations and it is Trump that people are saying “incited” violence.

While Twitter does have the legal right to deplatform Trump or anyone, this is a slippery slope.

Noted First Amendment professor Eugene Volokh has an excellent opinion piece in the New York Times outlining the problem:

What should we think about the power of such private corporations — and of the companies’ immensely wealthy owners — over American political speech?

That’s a hard question to answer. On the one hand, deplatforming a user like Mr. Trump is perfectly legal, and the perils of corporate power are often exaggerated.

On the other hand, these companies are exercising a sweeping ability to silence all of a politician’s speech, not just the dangerous parts. This would be condemned as prior restraint — that is, an action forbidding a wide range of future speech, rather than punishing a specific past statement — if done by the government. Furthermore, these companies are doing this in an environment of limited competition and with little transparency, procedural protection or democratic accountability.

I generally support private businesses’ ability to decide how to use their property. But even ardent champions of capitalism should accept that all power can be dangerous, including corporate power.

The first thing to understand is that these actions by Facebook and Twitter are legally permissible. They don’t violate the First Amendment, which binds only the federal government, or the 14th Amendment, which applies the First Amendment to state and local governments. Suspending Mr. Trump’s accounts also doesn’t violate any existing statutes; no law limits online services’ power to do that.

And such power can certainly be exercised in good ways. Maybe Facebook and Twitter should be more active in suspending accounts of elected officials, candidates and others, if they think those people — on the left, right or anywhere else on the political spectrum — are fomenting riots, emboldening looters or supporting violence or vandalism.

At the same time, you might worry that this power is prone to abuse. Recall the Supreme Court’s 2010 decision in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission, which held that corporations and unions have the First Amendment right to speak about political candidates. I happen to agree with the court’s decision in that case, but four justices and a legion of commentators didn’t. Many were concerned that by using their wealth, corporations would undermine democracy and unduly influence elections and sway elected officials.

Yet Citizens United was just about whether corporations could spend money to convey their views. Now we have a few huge corporations actually blocking someone’s ability to convey his views. Plus, such blocking affects not just the speaker; it also affects the millions of people who use Facebook and Twitter to hear what their elected officials have to say.

And what happens once is likely to happen again. After this, there’ll be pressure to get Facebook, Twitter and other companies to suppress other speech, such as fiery rhetoric against the police or oil companies or world trade authorities. People will demand: If you blocked A, why aren’t you blocking B? Aren’t you being hypocritical or discriminatory?

One does not need wait to see examples of the tech giants suppressing other speech or fiery rhetoric. They will ban speech that is critical of their actions:

On Monday, Facebook blocked former presidential candidate Ron Paul from his own page. The move came hours after the longtime congressman and libertarian hero shared an article he wrote criticizing Twitter and Facebook for banning President Donald Trump from their platforms.

“Last week’s massive social media purges – starting with President Trump’s permanent ban from Twitter and other outlets – was shocking and chilling, particularly to those of us who value free expression and the free exchange of ideas,” Paul wrote. “The justifications given for the silencing of wide swaths of public opinion made no sense and the process was anything but transparent. Nowhere in President Trump’s two ‘offending’ Tweets, for example, was a call for violence expressed explicitly or implicitly. It was a classic example of sentence first, verdict later.”

Paul shared the article on Facebook sometime around 10 a.m. EST. Hours later, on Twitter, Paul said he had been blocked by Facebook.

“With no explanation other than ‘repeatedly going against our community standards,’ Facebook has blocked me from managing my page,” Paul announced on Twitter. “Never have we received notice of violating community standards in the past and nowhere is the offending post identified.”

Facebook later rescinded the block, but the fact of the matter is that the block never should have occurred in the first place.

And then there is Parler.

Parler is a social media platform that which billed itself as a “free speech haven” but some critics have charged that it is place where right wing extremists and (gasp!) Trump supporters go.

After Twitter banned Trump, users flocked to Parler. Amazon, Google and Twitter reacted in force by:

1) Banning Parler’s Twitter and Facebook account followed by…
2) Google and Apple removing the Parler app from their stores followed by….
3) Amazon web services (AWS) terminating Parler’s server agreement.

Parler is suing AWS for breaching their contract which requires a 30 day notice and not 30 hours notice of AWS’s intentions to shut the Parler servers down. In addition, Parler is claiming that AWS is violating the Sherman anti-trust act by working in conjunction with the other tech media giants to suppress the market and favor Twitter, which is a client of AWS as well.

The complaint and a request for a temporary restraining order can be found here and here.

The actions of the tech giants reek more of an attempt to wipe out competition and political bias rather than dealing with speech. After all, Twitter and Facebook have a long history of allowing “questionable posts and tweets:

Even the president of anti-conservative Media Matters points to Facebook as the main organizing site [of the protest last week]:

Facebook had much bigger role in creating conditions that led to as well as organizing for January 6 event. We tracked people using FB to organize attendees to bring guns to the Jan 6 event. FB did nothing.

So why aren’t Facebook, YouTube, Twitter, and Reddit being deplatformed? Why are they picking on Parler?

That some people post threats in violation of policy is not at all unique to Parler. Twitter has had a longstanding and pervasive problem with threatening conduct and threats, so much so that Amnesty International calls it Toxic Twitter, and wrote reports on violent language directed at women on Twitter, and Twitter’s failure to remove death threats. Not that long ago Twitter hosted accounts for the military wing of Hamas, and related entities (I know, I used to check the accounts when something was happening in Gaza).

If you have spent any time on Twitter, and I’ve spent a lot, it is a cesspool of hate and conspiracy theories, particularly related to so-called Russia Collusion. The notion that Parler is worse is a fabrication.

Facebook has deep problems with terrorist groups organizing on its platform, so much so that it deletes millions of pieces of terrorist information a year but cannot keep up:

[….]

Facebook, not Parler, is the central hub for terrorists, organized hate groups, and White Supremacist groups.

So the claim that Parler represents some unique risk to safety is a lie. It’s a lie driven by politics, exploiting the justifiable national outrage at the Capitol Hill riot to purge political rivals through unprecedended collusion among the internet oligopolies, furthered by isolation tactics to cut Parler off from legal and other services.

While people say that Parler and others are free to go elsewhere, that too is a lie.

As MOTUS writes:

First they came for your Twitter and Facebook accounts and they said: “It’s not censorship, you can create your own app.”

Then they came for your Google and Apple apps and they said: “It’s not censorship, create your own website.”

And then they came for your Amazon web hosting: “It’s not censorship, create your own…”

Create your own what? Internet? Country?

The real problem is that if large tech companies can go after other large and budding companies, what happens to smaller companies and blogs like us? Can we be told that we are advocating incitement to violence and hatred? (It has happened to us previously.)

We are very cognizant that companies have the right to allow or disallow speech or other activities. There simply should be some consistency in what are effectively monopolies.

If you don’t believe that or understand the consequences, remember that stores that sell food could legally bar people from shopping based on their political statements and beliefs said outside of the store.

As people have noted, the tides of politics are always changing and eventually those tides will come back in and be aimed at what you hold dear.


UPDATE: Other companies fight back.

SPOKANE, Wash. — A North Idaho internet provider, Your T1 WIFI, confirmed it is blocking Facebook and Twitter from its WIFI service for some customers due to censorship claims.

Your T1 WIFI provides internet services to North Idaho and the Spokane area.

The move comes after Twitter and Facebook banned President Trump from their platforms due to incitement of violence and undermining the transition of power to President elect Joe Biden.

The social media sites banned the President due to violations of their terms of service. Because Twitter and Facebook are private companies, their bans on the President do not violate the First Amendment, which protects speech from being limited by the government.

The news article goes on to say that the decision to drop Facebook and Twitter may be a violation of the Washington State Net Neutrality Law.

Hmmmm….so the law says that the companies have to carry Twitter and Facebook in spite of the actions of those companies with which the ISP disagrees but Twitter and Facebook do not have to carry opinions with which they disagree.

Yeah……THAT makes sense.



One Response to “Voices.”

  1. Percy says:

    These company’s have shown they are merely propaganda machines for the far left. They will continue this anti free speech behavior as long as they have enough supporters. If you don’t like it delete your accounts and don’t support them, subscribers have given them this power and are free to take it away.

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