Protect The 1st vigorously argues that every business, from a billboard operator to the major social media platforms – YouTube, Facebook, Twitter, et al. – enjoy full and unfettered First Amendment protections even (or especially when) they annoy or offend us.
We also believe that platforms that are so dominant in the national discussion have a civic responsibility to ensure that their content moderation process is broad, allowing for every viewpoint that is not explicitly dangerous. At a time when social media’s reputation rivals that of Big Tobacco a generation ago, these companies would be practicing good corporate risk management to be more responsible.
Instead, social media platform operators seem to go out of their way to antagonize and alienate, as if they want to be broken up, heavily regulated and have their speech rights curbed by an angry Congress.
Case in point: Congressman Darrell Issa, Republican from California. In July, Rep. Issa spoke to a government technology conference, EDGE2021 in Las Vegas. In his speech, he touted the effectiveness of America’s vaccines and their superiority over the Russian Sputnik vaccine.
It was anything but an anti-vaccine rant. His speech was, Rep. Issa said, “about data and was a very nonpartisan speech.”
Nevertheless, YouTube took it down for violating its “community guidelines.”
After being challenged in the national media by Rep. Issa, YouTube apologized. Much of the issue with content moderation seems to be with the imperfect analysis of human speech by algorithms.
Many proposals have been floated to inject government regulation of social media content, including ill-advised state laws in Texas and Florida that attempted to force coverage of political viewpoints and candidates.
A better approach, one that would respect the First Amendment, is the Platform Accountability and Consumer Transparency Act, or PACT Act, sponsored by Sens. Brian Schatz (D-HI) and John Thune (R-SD). Section 230 of the 1996 Communications Decency Act currently grants social media companies liability protection in court for speech generated by users. The PACT Act would require social media companies that enjoy this liability protection to have clear and easy to understand standards for the removal of posts. And these platforms would have to give users due process, allowing them to appeal for a quick resolution of a complaint.
Until such a solution can be crafted, PT1st strongly advises the leading social media companies to correct imbalances in their content moderation before Congress fixes it for them.