Twitter: Platform or Publisher?

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Monday, February 1, 2021


Big tech has grown to become one of the biggest influencers over the information Americans receive. Over the four years of the Trump Presidency, the subject of social media censorship has gained a much larger share of national attention. Discussion over what speech Twitter and other social media “platforms” should be allowed to restrict has occurred since its creation, and many feel as if their restrictions are unfairly targeting conservatives. This specific issue reached its climax when Twitter outright banned President Trump, citing incitement to violence surrounding the riot at the Capitol as the primary reason. 

Twitter has long used its qualification under Section 230 of The Internet Communications Decency Act to its advantage, and has a history of censoring people at their own discretion. Section 230 gives “Internet Service Providers” the ability to distinguish themselves as a platform, alleviating their liability for content users post on their site. This is where they differ from a publication. Twitter cannot be sued for misinformation, calls to violence, and other lawsuit worthy material, whereas a publication could be. 

Twitter engages in selective censorship, in which they censor some who violate their rules, but not others. At the time of writing, Twitter still allows the Chinese Communist Party to spread lies and propaganda about their treatment of Uighur Muslims, Iran’s leader to call for violence against Americans and Jewish people, and branches of Antifa to organize violent demonstrations on their platform. Each of these three categories, deliberate misinformation, incitement of violence, and organization of real world criminal activity are deemed against Twitter’s rules. Yet, the content still stands. 

Twitter’s banning of President Trump for incitement of the Capitol Riot is not inherently unjust. After all, he may have committed real world crimes in his incitements. The issue comes when you examine the speech they chose to not censor. The aforementioned tweets that violate Twitter’s rules are just the beginning. 

The past violent summer of riots in the name of Black Lives Matter still rests in people’s minds. Twitter has chosen to let content from government officials, media outlets, and other users stand that encouraged violent responses to police brutality stand on their site. Every outlet that downplayed, encouraged, or praised violence over the past summer has done just as much, if not more harm than President Trump has with his own incitement of a riot. 

Does Twitter deserve their protection under Section 230 if they are removing some speech from their site, and willingly ignoring other content, seemingly under a political agenda? Many conservatives argue otherwise. 

Just this past week, House Republicans introduced legislation to amend Section 230 to ensure First Amendment protection is given to users of big tech platforms. The proposed amendment, House Resolution 285, would strip Internet Service Providers who choose to censor speech some of their protections from liability for content that does remain on their site. It remains to be seen how the proposed amendment seeks to do this, however, as the full text is not yet publicly available. 

Rules regarding free speech on tech platforms being implemented fairly is crucial to the health of a free internet. Giving politicians a direct line of communication to citizens is invaluable, and these platforms have grown to have a vital role in our political media. If Twitter is able to censor anyone they so desire, and able to omnisciently pardon those it deems worthy, it would only be a natural escalation for the platform to begin censoring those who cultivate measures that Twitter, the company, disagrees with. 

The long going debate of what speech should be censored on Twitter and other platforms will continue into the future.  This debate of censorship is incredibly vital to the continuation of these tools into the future, and will have drastic long term effects. These companies must be legislated delicately, as too much regulation could lead to the adverse effect of increased censorship. 

 

Dace Potas is a sophomore at DePaul University, studying Political Science and Mandarin Chinese. He plans to pursue a career relating to political commentary or journalism.

The views expressed in this article are the opinion of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Lone Conservative staff.


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About Dace Potas

Dace Potas is a sophomore at DePaul University, studying Political Science and Mandarin Chinese. He plans to pursue a career relating to political commentary or journalism.

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