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Thursday, August 24, 2017

As Tech Giants Censor Speech, Who Will Defend the First Amendment?



Go Daddy.
Twitter.
Facebook.
You Tube.
Google.
Apple.

These are some of the tech giants that currently rule the Internet.  Virtually any piece of information can’t fully circulate unless it goes through at least one of these channels.  So what happens when they begin to edit, censor, or ban certain images, content or websites?

We live in an Information Society, but also one of disinformation and fake news.  We also now find ourselves in a censored era, one that doesn’t come from the controls of government but from a handful of corporate entities that may mean well but too often cut off the free-flowing exchange of ideas and information that the Internet was supposed to usher in.

We need unfettered free speech online, otherwise we risk trampling what this nation is all about.  Are we to let a handful of anonymous techies secretly limit what we can see, think or discuss?  Like a virus, this behavior is spreading widely and quickly.

For instance, Go Daddy, a dominant web-hosting site, will dump sites it believes violate its terms of service.   Of course if a site rips people off or violates the law, Go Daddy has a duty to shut them down.  But when a site expresses a viewpoint that Go Daddy disagrees with should it exercise its corporate might to close them?  Today it boots a Neo-Nazi site; tomorrow maybe it dumps Black Lives Matter, and eventually it shutters sites that take extreme views on any hot-button topic. Who is to say which views should be heard?

Look at Gab, a new Twitter-like app, that’s been banned by Apple.  Why?  Because Gab, unlike Twitter, wants to let any posts to get placed without censorship.  Basically, Gab will follow the First Amendment to dictate what goes up online.

Free speech will always confound us.  We hear something that sounds so vile, so negative, so hateful and we want to silence that voice.  But unless they commit a crime or directly incite violence, we should just ignore it or counter it with better speech.  It’s better to get all thoughts and ideas out in the open – and to publicly challenge them rather than for people to secretly harbor delusional thoughts that go unchallenged.

We can’t fight ignorance without exposing it.  We can’t say we have free speech when we silence our critics.  We can’t let words be stronger than our values.

It’s not easy.  A lot of companies wish they didn’t have to police their business this way.  A lot of consumers wish something wonderful, like Facebook, wouldn';t be used to spread hate and ignorance. But the digital world must mirror the real world and allow for the First Amendment to be a living, breathing ideal. We must remain tolerant and optimistic in the face of hate, bigotry, and lying.

Take a look at what Cloudflare did. The site protects people from cyberattacks. The Daily Stormer, a bulletin board for self-proclaimed White supremacists, was using Cloudflare until the company kicked it off. 

Mr. Prince, the co-founder and CEO of Cloudflare, recently questioned his company's own decision in a Wall Street Journal op-ed, highlighting the problems with companies acting as censors. He wrote:

“The upshot is that a few private companies have effectively become the gatekeepers to the public square – the blogs and social media that serve as today’s soapboxes and pamphlets.  If a handful of tech executives decide to block you from their services, your content effectively can’t be on the internet…


“Did we meet the standard of due process in this case?  I worry we didn’t.  And at some level I’m not sure we ever could.  It doesn’t sit right to have a private company, invisible but ubiquitous, making editorial decisions about what can and cannot be online.  The pre-internet analogy would be if Ma Bell listened in on phone calls and could terminate your line if it didn’t like what you were talking about.”

Free speech comes at a high price.  We need to pay that price or find out later that we sold off our most precious right of all.

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Brian Feinblum’s views, opinions, and ideas expressed in this blog are his alone and not that of his employer. You can follow him on Twitter @theprexpert and email him at brianfeinblum@gmail.com. He feels more important when discussed in the third-person. This is copyrighted by BookMarketingBuzzBlog 2017©. Born and raised in Brooklyn, now resides in Westchester. Named one of the best book marketing blogs by Book Baby http://blog.bookbaby.com/2013/09/the-best-book-marketing-blogs 

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