In 2018, Alex Jones was removed from almost all major social media sites including Twitter and YouTube. Jones was known for promoting conspiracy theories on his show InfoWars. He was not too different from his cameo in the 2006 Hollywood movie, Scanner Darkly, with Robert Downey Jr. and Keanu Reeves, where he was silenced by the government .
Many people saw this was a bad sign. Jones being removed for his ideas was an obvious slippery slope. It was only a matter of time before people with less crazy ideas would start getting removed . And sure enough, that is exactly what happened.
Fast forward through two and half years of escalating censorship and eventually in January 2021 the sitting president of the U.S. ends up getting the same treatment as Jones. At this point many people are now unhappy with the heavily increasing censorship. Some consider this is a violation of the 1st amendment by not allowing free speech.
Trump was speaking out against Twitter long before he was removed. Specifically, he cited Section 230 as protecting Twitter and he pushed to get rid of it . What is Section 230 and why is it at the center of the censorship debate?
Section 230 is part of the Communications Decency Act of 1996 , which states:
"No provider or user of an interactive computer service shall be treated as the publisher or speaker of any information provided by another information content provider."
Simply put, this protects websites from being responsible for content generated by users. According to Wikipedia, some have called Section 230 “the twenty-six words that created the Internet”.
As someone who runs an alternative social media site, I thought I would weigh in my opinion. While I think censorship as a concept is bad, I do not think removing Section 230 is the answer.
First on principle I think companies should be free to refuse service to whoever they want. Similar to a coffee shop removing flyers from a bulletin board, a website should be free to remove posts.
Second on practical grounds I think government intervention will make the immediate problem worse on top of the other negative side effects of government involvement.
Many cite the 1st amendment as protecting free speech and claim that Twitter removing users is a violation of the 1st amendment.
But that is backwards, the 1st amendment does not mean you can go on someone else's property and carve a message into their tree (or post whatever flyer you want in a coffee shop). The 1st amendment means if you own property, you can carve whatever you want into your own tree and the government cannot stop you (or a coffee shop can put up whatever signs they want to).
Some argue Section 230 is one of the most important free-speech laws that exists . The removal of Section 230 would open the flood gates to government regulation of speech on the internet.
The bill of rights is a list of freedoms the government is not allowed to touch, not areas the government is supposed to get involved in and protect.
If you want to say whatever you want on the internet, run your own server or find a service that is accepting of your ideas.
Just like government intervention in health care pricing has made health care more expensive, government involvement in regulating free speech on the internet will inevitably lead to less free speech.
While Twitter and YouTube are very popular and getting removed may be devastating, fortunately we still have alternative options, ranging from Reddit and 4chan to private servers. Alex Jones lost a lot of exposure when he was removed, but his fans can still find him if they are willing to use other services .
If we turn social media into a public utility, we will eventually find ourselves in the same boat we are in with other utilities, where there are only one or two options, and unless you are lucky you will probably not be happy with them. Compare that to the world we live in now, with virtually unlimited social media options.
In cases where big players like YouTube and Twitter push their weight around and ban people, the free market will solve the problem better than the government can. People will move to alternative applications or even different technologies that can better guarantee freedom.
In conclusion, it is okay to be mad about censorship, but the solution is to find a better company to do business with or a new technology with better guarantees, not to further empower the government.