May 27, 2022

No! Social-Media Content Moderation Isn’t Censorship.

by Hal Gershowitz

Comments Below

U.S. 11th Circuit Court of Appeals, this week, debunked social media censorship myth.

Of course, the majority conservative US Supreme Court might disagree, but we’ll wager that common sense will prevail, even with three Trump-appointed conservatives in the majority. Having been banned from Twitter, Trump has made content moderation a hot-button issue among many on the right and the left. Who is Twitter to ban a former President simply because he cheered on and then stood by and watched as those who stormed the Capitol on January 6th attempted to overthrow an election, they reason?

It’s been a bar-room free-for-all with the Trump corner and others, including Elon Musk, inferring that social media companies shouldn’t moderate or exclude anyone who has anything to say or write on their platforms. It is unAmerican censorship, they say. Nonsense!

What it is, is responsible stewardship of powerful social media platforms. After the attempted insurrection at the Capitol on January 6th which left a half dozen people dead, Twitter announced, “After close review of recent Tweets from the @realDonaldTrump account and the context around them — specifically how they are being received and interpreted on and off Twitter — we have permanently suspended the account due to the risk of further incitement of violence.” Good for Twitter!

Those on the far right and many on the far left believe that no speech should be restricted on social media. They scream “censorship!” Nothing should be restricted in the marketplace of ideas, they say. Just check your common sense at the door when you enter their dystopian Orwellian world of “free speech.” Indeed, George Orwell must be looking down, his mouth agape. They would actually buy the absurdity of Big Brother’s speech as free speech in the 21st century; he must be thinking.

All speech is free speech on social media and shouldn’t be subject to content moderation, they reason. That, of course, would be tantamount to believing that the vile NAZI rantings of Julius Streicher’s Der Stürmer would be protected speech on today’s social media platforms. Readers with relevant 20th-century historical memory might recall that Streicher was tried, convicted, and, ultimately, sentenced to death at Nuremberg as an accessory to mass murder.

Content moderation is a huge responsibility. Social media platforms shouldn’t simply exclude postings that express opinions or provide information with which they don’t agree. Many in the media business are reluctant to run explosive or controversial news that is released in the days or weeks just before an election. It’s a dicey judgment call that can be quite controversial as it was when many outlets declined to run the Hunter Biden computer story that broke in the New York Post three weeks before the 2020 election.

Because content moderation can be subject to abuse, it is good that the courts are being called upon to determine what latitude social media companies have to host or refuse to host certain content. Well, it seems they, quite appropriately, have quite a bit of latitude. The 11th circuit has determined that to say they have no latitude to moderate content is to restrict social media’s first amendment right not to provide an echo chamber for speech that they consider inappropriate or dangerous. The 11th circuit seems to be saying that while you can’t stop social media from publishing or rebroadcasting any content, you can’t force them to publish or rebroadcast content they deem questionable either. Good for the 11th circuit.

This brouhaha stems from Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act of 1996, which precludes providers and users from being held liable—legally responsible—for information provided by a third party. Courts have generally ruled that Section 230 protects social media from a wide variety of lawsuits and preempts laws that would make providers and users liable for content others post. However, Section 230 does not preclude social media companies such as Twitter or Facebook from making sensible judgments about what content is beyond the pale of responsible communication. This is a crucial point that the anything-goes crowd either doesn’t understand or chooses to ignore.

 The “Good Samaritan” provision of Section 230 gives social-media platforms the freedom, if not the obligation, to restrict “objectionable” content posted by third parties. The decision not to run material that a platform considers objectionable isn’t censorship as prohibited by our Constitution. The Good Samaritan provision of Section 230 simply recognizes that social media platforms are free to use good judgment. They can say “No!” to garbage or anything they deem inappropriate, even though they can’t be sued for publishing or rebroadcasting it.

That Twitter dared to permanently suspend former President Trump for his role in the January 6th day of horrors has enraged many on the far right and on the far left and an assortment of misguided would-be exemplars of free speech, including Elon Musk. They are simply wrong. Section 230 recognizes both the freedom for social media to republish or rebroadcast irresponsible or questionable postings, as well as the freedom to determine that what they consider to be junk or otherwise questionable doesn’t have a place on their site.

Those who scream censorship need to understand that yelling “Fire!” in a crowded theater, which is proscribed by law, is simply an analogy. Under the Good Samaritan Provision of Section 230, social media is perfectly free to say “No!” or “Enough!” to what they consider to be questionable, or inciteful postings.

It’s not bad censorship. It’s good stewardship.

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22 responses to “No! Social-Media Content Moderation Isn’t Censorship.”

  1. Perry says:

    I do not consider myself extreme in any sense, I do however feel the necessity of expressing
    myself on issues and have many times been subject to censorship because of my contrary
    opinion in the AOL comment section. I feel that picking and choosing as they have demonstrated is in fact CENSORSHIP.

  2. Joanne says:

    I agree with Perry

  3. Perry Altshule says:

    This Perry totally disagrees with what the other Perry says.
    Proven lies shouted loudly do not represent “free speech” our former president and his followers feel that January 6th was a proper protest and the continuing lie about the election is still a debatable discussion.

    • Virginia Arthur says:

      I agree with the Perry A. I appreciate the fact that social media platforms are run by responsible people who will not allow hate speech or threats on their sites. I also appreciate them taking down outright lies and conspiracy theories.

      This country is screwed up enough without false information spreading from person to person at the speed of light.

    • Leila says:

      Soooooo do the people who believe that anything goes and nothing should be ‘censored’ think it’s ok to show content of molesting little children? Is there any content not exceptable? How about trying to overthrow a government with lies?

  4. Prover Stephen E. says:

    I agree with Perry… Altshule…

  5. Marc J. Belgrad says:

    Doesn’t censorship refer only to governmental bodies restricted the free speech of their citizens anyway?

  6. Sandy Goldman says:

    Marc is right. The First Amendment prohibits the government, not private companies, from abridging the freedom of speech.

  7. Stuart Goldfine says:

    I agree with Perry #1. I wrote a few letters to the local Desert Sun newspaper and my views were censored by a writer there. If the leftist writer could censor me, why can’t the right wing censor the crazies on the left using Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, Tik-Tok, etc. Social media is destroying young Americans with utter garbage and falsehoods.
    You don’t see any mass murderers over the age of 40, except the guy in Las Vegas. Also note that none of the mass murderers belonged to the NRA, yet they take the blame just like Trump.

    • Virginia Arthur says:

      The NRA and Republican politicians block any common sense gun control laws. No one has ever said to take everyone’s guns away. We need some common sense gun laws to make sure that dangerous and mentally ill people can’t buy guns.

      • Gene Ammons says:

        There are already so called common sense gun laws. They are not enforced, especially by our present administration. More of the same want help. Besides, it’s not the guns!!! It’s the deterioration of morals, ethics, and integrity in this country. Japan has just proved that!

  8. LWY says:

    Why are we talking about Trump every week? He is no longer our president. Don’t you think it is time to have a conversation on Biden and his policies?

    • Hal Gershowitz says:

      Response to LWY: At a quick glance, only two of my last twenty-one columns have even referred to Trump.

  9. Mark Smith says:

    The censoring and deplatforming of users is all coming from the same direction – left silencing right, all under the cover of “keeping people safe from disinformation.” Most (all?) of the social media companies have government contracts of one kind or another, most (all?) share their user data with the government. The synergy between government and social media approaches the textbook definition of fascism – collaboration of big business with overreaching government. This marriage of big tech and big government should be enough to apply 1st amendment free speech standards to social media platforms like FB, IG, Twitter, etc. You’ll note that the Democratic administration is never held up to this “misinformation” standard (c19 vaccines are safe and effective, you can’t get c19 if you’re vaccinated, no provable vaccine adverse effects, remdesivir is safe and effective), while anyone who has questioned these asssertions have been subjected not only to censorship and deplatforming, but loss of jobs, loss of medical licenses, and other punishments – which is especially galling now that the dissenters have been proved correct. Put the “censorship” shoe on the other foot – how would you like to be censored and deplatformed for your views? And don’t say it couldn’t happen to you – I’m sure that being censored and deplatformed was an outcome that never occurred to dozens of doctors, scientists, dissenting journalists and other who have been thus victimized during the past couple of years.

  10. Mark Smith says:

    Also, the ability to manipulate public opinion via instant communications platforms such as those offered by social media is the culmination of a decades-long government wet dream. The media and government have teamed up to lie to us and propagandize us since at least the days of Operation Mockingbird, which placed hundreds of CIA assets in the newsrooms of major U.S. media outlets, and has intensified throughout the intervening years.

    Consider the leverage government blatantly wields over today’s social media platforms, as explained by Caitlin Johnstone:

    “In 2017 representatives from Google, Facebook and Twitter were called before the Senate Judiciary Committee and told they must ‘quell information rebellions’ and were instructed to come up with a mission statement expressing their commitment to ‘prevent the fomenting of discord’ on their platforms. ‘We all must act now on the social media battlefield to quell information rebellions that can quickly lead to violent confrontations and easily transform us into the Divided States of America,’ the tech giants were told by think tanker and former FBI agent Clint Watts, who added, ‘Stopping the false information artillery barrage landing on social media users comes only when those outlets distributing bogus stories are silenced — silence the guns and the barrage will end.’ When monopolistic billionaire corporations are faced with demands from a legislative body that could easily make their lives a lot harder and a lot less profitable by taking action, up to and including major antitrust cases, they are being made an offer they can’t refuse. This was made abundantly clear by Senator Dianne Feinstein during the 2017 hearings in her threat to intervene if those corporations failed to curtail the spread of unauthorized information online. ‘You have to be the ones who do something about it — or we will,’ Feinstein told the online platforms.

    https://caitlinjohnstone.substack.com/p/ten-times-empire-managers-showed?s=r

    The antidotes to the constant flow of government propaganda and the media’s complicit role in spreading it while silencing all dissent? Find and follow as many voices of independent thought as you can, including such writers as Caitlin Johnstone, James H. Kunstler, Alex Berenson, Glenn Greenwald, Eva K. Bartlett and Vanessa Beeley.

    And start from the assumption that all governments lie. They have to. And they need accomplices.

  11. David says:

    If private companies censor someone’s remarks, that is their business. Twitter and all other social media platforms are private entities. If I hold a party at my house, all guests are expected to abide my rules. If they get unruly and start attacking my others guests, I will throw them out. Boundaries do matter.

  12. Patricia Levy says:

    I agree with Mark Smith.

  13. BLB says:

    I agree with Perry #1 et al……

    The 11th Circuit Court of Appeals is the most liberal in the nation!!!!

    And Trump has been mentioned in MANY of the previous blogs…..I, too, am tired of the mention or reference to him. What about the current administration??????

  14. Janice says:

    Bravo Mark Smith!

  15. BLB says:

    I stand corrected….it’s the 9th Circuit that is the very Liberal appeals court…

  16. Michael R says:

    Hal

    What a tragedy.

    Your post fails to reflect the reality that many of us experience

    Liberals don’t hate free speech; they just hate speech they don’t like.

    20 months ago, they (aka the social media companies) arbitrarily decided that the Hunter Biden was “ disinformation” and had to be censored. Today we know it was and is true. If the tables were turned and this was one of Trump’s kids and it could have damaged his campaign, do you honestly believe that the same things would have occurred.

    Meanwhile, we get lectured about hate speech yet see Ayatolahs and others calling for the destruction of Israel given a free pass. We see this with conservative viewpoints censored (eg Dennis Prager and others) while you most likely can’t name one liberal journalist that has been censored.

    Now with the Durham investigation we learn that the Clinton campaign was behind the Russian hoax, but has she been banned? And the damage caused by her actions (I think they call it sedition) are far more consequential than the January 6th event – an event by the way that appears to have some level of governmental involvement . Has Hillary of any of her cohorts been banned?

    We all know the answer to that question and the reasons why. Whether you choose to acknowledge it or even write about it, we are playing a game that is rigged. And as the lawyer for Twitter who was responsible for their censorship policies acknowledged, she has a bias and by all appearances used that bias to kill viewpoints that could have damaged the Biden campaign.

    And then you read about the monies that Mark Zuckerberg spent to support ballot harvesting – a policy that clearly favored Democrats and it makes you wonder: Did Facebook put their finger on the scale?

    Meanwhile, we live with the consequences of the terrible policies of this Administrstion – yet nary a word from Hal. Is it because you are unaware of these devastating consequences or is it that yiu just want to ignore them

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