Before we get too deep into the weeds on this next news story, let's go ahead and divide everyone in the crowd for just a moment.
Chances are you share one (but not both) of these opinions about social media sites like Facebook and Twitter:
- Social media tech giants are private companies who can decide what happens on their platform.
- Social media tech giants have become such a regular part of our lives that they are no longer private entities and the government should regulate them the same way we regulate the electric and water companies that pipe services into our homes.
If you happen to be from the latter group (I'm not) you'll probably appreciate what lawmakers in Texas are doing right now.
A bill recently sent to the Texas Senate was designed to prevent social media platforms like Facebook and Twitter from censoring users for their ideological and theological viewpoints.
You know how Twitter, YouTube, Facebook/Instagram and other less popular platforms like to suspend and ban users for saying and posting things that represent unpopular viewpoints in places like Silicon Valley? Well, that's what we're talking about here.
If someone posts something aimed at amusing people with far-right view points, websites like Twitter have a history of banning these people. We all know what happened to Milo Yiannopoulos and Alex Jones but there are a countless number of lesser known but similar incidents.
Supporters say the Texas bill will protect free speech, but what about the free speech of the people who launched the platforms? Also, this bill contradicts a federal law that allows social media platforms to regulate their own content - which is really the definition of free speech, if you think about it. You may feel like you're being censored when you get suspended from Facebook for posting a racy meme and technically you're right. But you're also free to start your own social media platform where you can censor people for having far-left view points (or Islamic view points, or flat-earther view points, or whatever you may disagree with).
Texas Senate Bill 2373 was authored by state Sen. Bryan Hughes (R-Mineola) Hughes thinks we should be able to hold social media platforms accountable for restricting users’ speech based on personal opinions. The Senate State Affairs Committee unanimously approved the bill last week.
Hughes says the bill is aimed at regulating social media platforms who advertise themselves as unbiased but still censor users.
But do Facebook and Twitter actually advertise themselves in such a way? The Facebook user agreement reads like an encyclopedia with so many rules and restrictions that it should be pretty obvious to most people with average intelligence that the site is clearly biased. Forget about conservative vs. liberal for a minute and look at the big picture. You can't post nudity, right? That rule is biased towards nudists. Violent and graphic images are often censored too. If a violent or graphic image (like video footage from war, street violence or images of abortions) is posted, it can likely be censored even if it was posted to help support an ideological argument.
What about blatant racism? Should Facebook and Twitter be required to allow Neo-Nazis and Sharia advocates to post extremely hateful content if it upsets the other users? I assume Senator Hughes would take exception to content posted by ISIS supporters or Hitler fanboys, but that's someone's personal opinion, is it not?
The bottom line: Texas Senate Bill 2373 stifles free speech - the free speech of software developers.
I may not agree with the political opinions of neo-liberal Silicon Valley CEOs, but I'll defend their right to free speech just like I would anyone else.