Elon Musk, the Buffalo shootings, Texas and free speech on the internet
Recent headlines clearly illustrate that the United States has yet to figure out how to deal with the intersection of free speech and behavior online.
- Elon Musk offered to buy Twitter and promised to reduce the amount of content moderation on the platform.
- An 18-year-old gunman killed 10 people in a Buffalo supermarket and broadcast the massacre live online.
- A federal court has cleared a new Texas law into effect, making it illegal for online platforms to block or edit content.
Elon Musk and Twitter
by Elon Musk first tweet after Twitter’s board of directors accepted its acquisition offer was, “Free speech is the foundation of a functioning democracy.” The next day he tweeted, “By ‘freedom of expression’, I simply mean what corresponds to the law. I am against censorship which goes far beyond the law.
The law, of course, is rooted in the First Amendment to the United States Constitution, which limits government involvement in matters of speech. Besides obvious crimes such as child pornography and insurrection, the law allows private entities wide latitude in their expressive activities. This means, for example, that digital platforms such as Twitter are free to spread Russian, Chinese or Nazi propaganda.
Twitter has long struggled with the responsibility that freedom of expression bestows upon it. After Charlottesville 2017 Let’s unite the right led to the death of an anti-racism protester, for example, Twitter deleted the narrative of the American Nazi Party. Mr Musk’s new ‘whatever is the law’ policy draws attention to the fact that the Nazi Party is not illegal—nor is the distribution of the Buffalo video of a white supremacist.
Buffalo live video
The individual alleged to be the Buffalo killer would have written to be inspired by the 2019 online shooting at a mosque in christchurch, New Zealand. The vehicle for the Christchurch video was 4chan, a notoriously online forum filled with hate and poorly controlled.
“I think the live broadcast of this attack gives me some motivation in how I know some people are going to cheer me on,” the alleged shooter said. wrote. His platform of choice for Buffalo video was the Amazon-owned streaming service Tic. Within two minutes of Twitch post responded and went down the stream. But once on the Internet, the content becomes immortal. The filming video was collected by users and published on other platforms.
Twitter, at least for now, has a Politics remove accounts of “individual perpetrators of terrorist, violent extremist or mass violent attacks”. However, ABC News reported“Sunday”, the day after the massacre, “excerpts from the video were still circulating on the platform.”
Texas Free Speech Law
“Free speech is under attack in Texas,” Gov. Gregg Abbott (R-Tex.) said. possesses proclaimed. “In Texas, we will always fight for your freedom of speech,” the governor said as he signed the law HB 20 “relating to censorship or other interference with digital expression.” The new law, he explained, was in response to “a dangerous move by some social media companies to silence conservative ideas and values”.
After the United States Court of Appeals for the 5and Circuit lifted a lower court injunction barring enforcement, the the online industry has appealed with the United States Supreme Court. Texas law, the appeal argues“deprives private online companies of their rights of expression, prohibits them from making editorial decisions protected by the Constitution and forces them to publish and promote objectionable content”.
The law remains in effect while the Supreme Court hears the appeal. To defend the new law, the Attorney General of Texas disputed the appeal which now sits with Judge Samuel Alito.
The Trump Factor
There seems to have been a common provocation to Elon Musk’s comments as well as Texas law: Donald Trump being banned of Twitter after the January 6 uprising. “I think it was wrong to ban Donald Trump,” Musk said exposed shortly after announcing his takeover plans, “I would rescind the ban.” It was a similar provocation in Texas. the Austin American Statesman reported, “HB 20 was fueled by conservative anger that escalated after Twitter banned former President Donald Trump’s account.”
In a fascinating turn of events, Donald Trump made his own form of censorship decision. For to favor his new social media company Social truth on Twitter, he pledged to restrict his use of Twitter. According to a Securities and Exchange Commission deposit of Digital World Acquisition Corp., the blank check company that acquired Trump Media & Technology Group for $1.25 billionthe former president is forced to give Truth Social a six-hour exclusive on his non-campaign messaging.
The age-old concept that freedom of speech does not extend to shouting “FIRE!” in a crowded theater has so far found no equivalent online.
Elon Musk’s intention that Twitter should distribute anything as long as it’s legal would appear to be a business plan disguised as an editorial decision. In a pitch deck distributed to potential Twitter investors, Musk promised that it would double the number of Twitter users by 2025, including adding tens of millions of paid subscribers. The model that other platform companies have used to achieve such growth has been dubbed “enrage to engage”—to attract users and keep them coming back by providing unorganized controversy. But if that is his plan, it is surely foolish since unmoderated platforms are quickly becoming online sewers and turning off both users and advertisers.
This brings us to texas law and its provision that “a social media platform may not censor a user, a user’s expression, or a user’s ability to receive another person’s expression…” [Section 143A.001 (1)]. Governor Abbott Signing Statement Explain the new law would prohibit social media companies from “banning users based on users’ political views”. The alleged shooter’s political view was would have Racism and replacement theory. After the Buffalo tragedy, Texas lawmaker State Rep. Briscoe Cain (R-Tex.) embarked on a Twitter debate denying its legislation made it illegal for Twitch to remove the shooter’s video. At the very least, Texas law creates an unconstitutionally vague line between permitted editorial discretion and prohibited viewpoint discrimination.
Elon Musk’s policy is a business decision and a misguided attempt to attract more users. The Texas law is a political decision, presumably to get more votes.
Is this the best we can do?
Where do we go from here?
Texas has demonstrated the folly of legislatively prohibiting or excessively burdening editorial discretion.
Elon Musk demonstrated the relationship between the push for growth and profits and editorial responsibility.
If there’s any successful post-Buffalo activity, it’s how quickly Twitch and other platforms moved to remove the offending video, though companies should consider tougher policies that make it harder to upload violent videos to start with. The major platforms that acted so quickly to remove the video from their sites are a result of their coming together and acting responsibly.
Following the 2019 Christchurch murders, major online platforms— Amazon, Facebook, Google, Microsoft and Twitter – announcement the Christchurch Call to Action to eliminate terrorist and violent extremist content online. They have developed and implemented a nine steps plan for a situation similar to Buffalo.
The Christchurch Call created an industry code of conduct. Undoubtedly, each experience shows how to further improve the process. Unfortunately, however, good work is undone by irresponsible platforms that do not adhere to its principles.
We have seen irresponsible media before in American history. In many ways, 21st century behavior platforms reflects the profit-seeking behavior of the early 20th century newspaper patterns. William Randolph Hearst and Joseph Pulitzer created what became known as yellow journalism with the philosophy of “printing whatever it takes to sell newspapers”. In The constitution of knowledge: a defense of truth, Brooking’s Jonathan Rauch tells how the American Society of Newspaper Editors developed a code of ethics to counter the practice.
Unfortunately, not all platform companies pay attention to their responsibilities to the greater good. When this happens in other industries, the government usually steps in. The First Amendment, however, protects against government interference in editorial decisions. This does not mean, however, that the newspaper editor model is irrelevant, or that government has no role to play.
It is not a violation of the First Amendment for Congress to call for the development of a standard of behavior similar to the Christchurch code of industry, public and government for all digital platforms.
It is not a violation of the First Amendment for Congress to create a Digital Platform Commission with the power to bring together representatives of platforms, the public and government to establish a code of behavior that the agency would apply as Sen. Michael Bennet (D-Colo.) and Representative Peter Welch (D-Vt.) have proposed.
It is not a violation of the First Amendment for the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) to rule that a platform company’s failure to implement a code of conduct is a violation of prohibitions under the FTC Act. Once such code is included in the company’s terms and conditions. It constitutes an agreement with the customer that could be enforced by the FTC as unfair or misleading if not followed (much like the FTC did with its action against Facebook for not following its own code of privacy).
It is not a violation of the First Amendment for Congress to require social media companies to adhere to transparency and accountability rules that are developed in cooperation with industry and enforced by a federal regulatory commission with resolution of the disputes by an industry self-regulatory body, as Brookings’ Mark MacCarthy did propose.
It is not a violation of the First Amendment for Congress to look beyond performance politics and for platforms to look beyond profits to publicly wrestle with the definition of “FIRE!” in digital theatre.
Amazon, Facebook, Google and Microsoft are general and unrestricted donors to the Brookings Institution. The findings, interpretations and conclusions published in this article are solely those of the authors and are not influenced by any donation.