Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg and Twitter’s Jack Dorsey were questioned during a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing last week about alleged conservative censorship on their platforms, transparency of the platforms and how the tech giants are handling content pertaining to the election on their platforms, which all boils down to one major element: the truth.
There was a statement that stood out to me during the Senate Judiciary Committee hearing that relates directly to the truth and personally perceived truth. Sen. John Kennedy, unsure if he subscribes to this way of thinking, said during the hearing, “What if your companies had a rule that said, ‘People aren’t morons … I can read what I want to read and exercise my good judgement and choose to believe it.’ Here’s the rule we’re adopting: if you go on Twitter or Facebook, you can’t bully people, you can’t threaten people … You can’t commit a crime with your words and you can’t incite violence. But other than that, you can print any damn thing you want to, and we’ll let our users judge.”
Facebook and Twitter already work in this way but utilize third-party fact checkers to give users the option to know when what they’re reading has been flagged as false or misleading. What about providing people with the option to know what’s been fact-checked and what’s been proven fake or misleading is unconstitutional? This really shouldn’t be a partisan issue because independent fact checkers are in place to help all of us. And if someone doesn’t trust the fact checkers that are being used, they have the complete ability to research the truth for themselves.
Additionally on Kennedy’s statement, I don’t think people are morons, but it’s obvious how easily persuaded the masses are, especially through social media; therefore, it feels concerning to grant people the full ability to share misinformation without any kind of content warning about the material. This isn’t the same as “censoring” as this would only provide readers the knowledge if there’s factual evidence behind what is being posted or not.
The Associated Press previously discussed who is at the center of sharing fake information, specifically surrounding the 2016 election. The article, citing a research study, says “people over 65 and ultra conservatives shared about seven times more fake information masquerading as news on [Facebook] than younger adults, moderates and super liberals.”
“We can disagree, but when we have fundamentally different views about what information is true and what is not, democracy becomes very difficult to maintain,” said Tobias Hopp, assistant professor of advertising, public relations and media design at the University of Colorado Boulder.
Hopp published a journal titled “Why Do People Share Ideologically Extreme, False, and Misleading Content on Social Media? A Self-Report and Trace Data – Based Analysis of Countermedia Content Dissemination on Facebook and Twitter.” The research says, “studies on fake news have generally shown that those self-identifying as very conservative share the most fake news,” but the study also mentions that while not as often as ultra conservatives, people on the left have fallen into sharing misleading articles and posts too.
It’s interesting to see both Democratic and Republican senators agree across the board that some type of content moderation needs to be in place for content like Kennedy suggested as well as child exploitation and terrorism, including white supremacist groups and militias, but when Facebook and Twitter do exactly that, certain conservatives are then alleging they’re being censored.
The conservative senators who are making these baseless allegations of biased censorship against them can’t in the same hand promote violence, bullying, white supremacy, domestic terrorism and then some while also expecting social media platforms to have policies in place to prevent exactly what they’re posting. That’s why those posts are being “censored” — because they’re breaking the policies that some Senate Republicans are hypocritically saying they’re OK with.
Before comments flood in about how Donald Trump is being subjected to “censorship,” you must realize it’s because he’s posting complete lies. On Nov. 16, Trump tweeted again that he won the election, even though the election was called for Joe Biden weeks ago. Twitter didn’t “censor” him for this but rather put a small warning underneath that reads, “multiple sources called this election differently.”
It’s alarming if people aren’t actively seeking what’s true — and by that, I mean complete objective truth that is not coated in bias and partisanship. Of course, one should still be allowed to voice their opinions on the matter; that was never in question, but that’s different than sharing and spreading misinformation like it's truth.
In summation, I think this comes down to personal responsibility and accountability. If someone is not ensuring that what they’re reading and sharing is true, then they might reap the consequences of sharing false news like the platform flagging the post or removing content that violates the guidelines that those of us on social media all accept and agree to.