While this may sound alarming, it begs to be said: America is embroiled in a First Amendment fight that could reshape our very idea of freedom.
The intention of the First Amendment was fairly simple: Americans shall be allowed to speak their minds and share their opinions, particularly in the realm of government, in order to keep one another educated and diligent in their democracy.
In practice, this began with protests and street corner speeches out in “public”. The issue that we seem to face today is what constitutes “public” anymore.
For many, their only soapbox is social media in 2019. They can reach the masses, or just their inner circle if they prefer, by tweeting or posting a status update. Those within “range” can then choose to add to the conversation, or share the knowledge with their influencees, and we can come together as a nation to ponder these thoughts in the public domain.
Social media companies, however, have had a different idea. They’ve decided to cater to their own beliefs in lieu of the openness of free speech, using complex algorithms to sort and throttle opinions that someone within the company doesn’t like. As these ideas turn exponential and go viral, several social media corporations have even taking to banning publishers and individuals from using their otherwise public platform.
It is this gatekeeping that has Texas legislators ready for war.
Senate Bill 2373, proposed by State Sen. Bryan Hughes (R-Mineola) aims to hold social media websites accountable for the restriction of users speech based on personal opinions. Hughes stated that the bill would apply to social media sites which claim to support free speech and advertise their platform as unbiased but repeatedly censor users. The bill was unanimously approved by the Senate State Affairs Committee last week.
Hughes’ concerns are valid, and help to reiterate the concerns among liberty advocates regarding what constitutes “public” space.
In a committee hearing, Hughes stated: “Senate Bill 2373 tries to prevent those companies that control these new public spaces, this new public square, from picking winners and losers based on content. Basically, if the company represents, ‘We’re an open forum and we don’t discriminate based on content,’ then they shouldn’t be able to discriminate based on content.”
Hughes highlighted a recent ad on Facebook by the Texas Senate Republica Caucus during the hearing. The ad was in support of a pro-life bill which was flagged by Facebook for promoting a “negative experience” on the platform. Hughes said Facebook told him that the site objected to the ad because it encouraged users to share it, but the Republican Caucus also posted an ad about the Senate’s property tax bill which also asked users to share the ad and this was not flagged by Facebook.
Shedding light on this subject has been fraught with peril for publishers, who find themselves often at the whims of these same social media companies.
President Trump has vowed to investigate the censorship issue as well, tweeting his support to embattled publishers as recently as last week.
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