Hi everyone, and Happy Independence Day! I hope you are all enjoying some down time this weekend. The tech world enjoyed a little down time this weekend itself, and as a result I don’t have a lot to report. But one trend stood out this past week, one that I think is just beginning: social media (and whole countries, even) stepped up their banning of content. It’s fitting that these events are taking place around the celebration of our independence; we are seeing the battle between “freedom of expression” and “the right to be free from harassment” playing out on the social media stage. A quick rundown of the biggest stories:
- YouTube banned several prominent white supremacist channels for violating a recently-updated policy that prohibited content suggesting that members of protected groups were inferior. YouTube stated that since the new hate speech policy was implemented, over 25,000 channels have been terminated; what made the bans this week significant is that the terminated accounts belonged to some really prominent creators, many of whom indicated they would be appealing the bans.
- Facebook removed accounts associated with the fringe “boogaloo” movement. For those of you not familiar, the boogaloo movement has been described as a loosely-organized extremist group preparing for a second American Civil War. Facebook removed 220 accounts, 28 pages, 106 groups, and 95 Instagram accounts, in addition to more than 500 other groups and pages that were hosting similar content.
- Facebook’s actions may be a response to the more than 400 companies that have joined an advertising boycott of Facebook for the month of July (and perhaps beyond?), in protest over how the company handles hate speech and other harmful content.
- Reddit banned over 2,000 of its communities for violating new content policies. Two significant communities were r/The_Donald (conservative content) and r/ChapoTrapHouse (liberal content). Reddit stated that “communities and people that incite violence or promote hate based on identity or vulnerability will be banned.”
- Streaming service Twitch temporarily suspended President Trump for what it termed “hateful conduct.”
- And the country of India banned TikTok and 58 other China-based apps for engaging in activities “prejudicial to sovereignty and integrity of India. This may be related to recent tensions between India and China, including an incident that left 20 Indian soldiers dead. But it’s also not the first time India has banned TikTok.
Why lawyers should care There will be many who say these actions by social media companies violate our First Amendment rights. There’s also an argument that none of these social media companies are governmental entities, and they have the right to govern their platforms as they see fit. Indeed, the CEO of Reddit stated:
I have to admit that I’ve struggled with balancing my values as an American, and around free speech and free expression, with my values and the company’s values around common human decency.
In the case of India, we can see how an entire government’s power can take away content platforms that are being used by millions of Indians every day.
No matter where your opinions fall on this issue, we are just in the beginning stages of trying to figure out how all of this works, and as usual the law will play some part in determining its outcome.
Even if you don’t care about the legal aspects involved, I’m guessing most of you use one or more of the platforms that took action this week – so it’s in your best interest to know what those platforms are doing, and how they are trying to serve you as a community member.