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Saturday, September 25, 2021

Who gets to censor what is on our social media platforms?

As social media and internet giants have banned political figures and platforms, some wonder how far their reach is

On Jan. 8, 2021, Twitter permanently suspended former President Donald Trump’s Twitter account. This was done primarily because of Trump’s alleged involvement with the Jan. 6 Capitol riots that left five people dead. 

In addition, following the attack on the U.S. Capitol, Amazon, Apple and Google removed Parler, the social media platform popular among far-right extremist groups, due to the backlash it received for being among the networks used to organize the Capitol riots. 

Social media platforms such as Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and even TikTok have since instituted some form of censorship or ban on Trump. 

According to the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), “Censorship [is the] suppression of words, images, or ideas that are ‘offensive,’ [and] happens whenever some people succeed in imposing their personal political or moral values on others.”

 In other words, censorship is the process by which offensive ideas are purposefully prevented by private entities or the government. However, when the U.S. government attempts to engage in censorship, it leads to issues with the First Amendment. 

Private companies are non-governmental agencies who are permitted to use censorship, through banning or suspending accounts, ideas or things, because they are not subjected to the First Amendment’s decree that “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances.” 

Simply put, the U.S. government shall not pass laws that undermine the constitutionally-outlined freedoms afforded to American citizens, notably in regards to free speech and press. 

Freedom House’s annual Freedom on the Net report found that 86.6% of respondents were in support of social media companies such as Twitter, Instagram and Facebook having power to engage in censorship. 

Other interesting findings include that 60.4% of respondents were in favor of the censorship of content encouraging violence, 54.3% for racist content and only 18.7% for conspiracy theories.

The censorship of Trump and Parler are potential examples of censorship used to protect American society as these two entities have often been engaged in dangerous online behavior. 

The fear that often arises is that social media platforms are private entities capable of easily censoring or removing anyone from their platforms, even arguably one of the most powerful people in the world—a sitting President of the U.S. 

Social media platforms’ main objective is usually to allow organic, unobstructed communication and sharing of varied ideas and content. However, by being able to easily censor such an influential goliath as a president, how much protection does the average user have? Furthermore, who is the rider of the moral high horse that gets to decide what is and is not worth censoring? 

As Americans who often value individual freedoms, it is troubling to some that the social media sites we use everyday are private corporations that can legally dim and censor our voices. However, when the content being published for millions of people to see can lead to immense danger, censorship may be necessary. 

Written by: Muhammad Tariq — arts@theaggie.org

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