By Gary j. Nix
- Justice Clarence Thomas really wants Congress to regulate Twitter moderation
- 60% of Black Twitter users state they use the platform to get involved in social and political issues they find important
Justice Clarence Thomas has set his sights on moderation on Twitter (TWTR -3.74%) and other tech platforms. Interestingly enough, Justice Thomas’ concurrence came after Twitter banned former President Trump for inciting the Capitol Riot on January 6, 2021. According to Thomas, Twitter’s Trump ban exposes potential abuses of 47 U.S. Code § 230, noting how “applying old doctrines to new digital platforms is rarely straightforward.” No other justice joined Thomas’ concurrence, even though negative sentiment has grown on social media channels due to toxicity issues and lack of online safety for years now. Since Black and Hispanic social media users see more personal benefits than white users when it comes to these types of civically minded activities, what impact could the regulation of digital free speech have on them?
Why This Matters: Arguments regarding what people can and cannot say on “The Bird” are often based on what people think freedom of speech means. However, it is critical to understand what freedom of speech does not protect against: things like hate speech, inciting violence, supporting terrorism, public employee speech, and true threats. Tweets that got the former President banned fall under at least one of those categories. Thus, Thomas’ over politicization of freedom of speech by using examples such as the reason Trump was banned from the service, should not hold weight logically.
Furthermore, 60% of Black Twitter users state they use the platform to get involved in social and political issues they find important, and 51% of them state the company gives them a venue to express their political feelings. Creating law designed to police how these private platforms moderate content under the guise of free speech regulation would be a short road to changing what is safe to say on these platforms, and history has taught us that those who will be most adversely affected are those who are marginalized.
Situational Awareness: Significant improvements on Twitter can be made based on their ban of Trump and others because of what is not protected by the First Amendment. However, positioning one’s self, in part nestled in what is and what is not protected under freedom of speech, will do more good than harm in the long run if and when enforced quickly and clearly. With that being said, it will be essential that those who create policy at these platforms clearly define what constitutes hate speech, true threats, inciting violence et al. for all users. The devil is always in the details.
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