A Question of Speech

Mark Tobola

A Question of Speech

3 mins
February 16, 2021

I feel like the last few months have had me living with that old curse upon me.  You know, the curse of "may you live in interesting times."  We have had "interesting times" for a LONG time now!  The last couple of times have really been "interesting" from a number of points of view!  But one particular series of events has kind of been causing me much thought and consternation.  That point is when Twitter, Facebook, and a handful of other Social Media platforms banned a particular person from holding an account.  

So, the long and short of this boils down to a couple of points that have me at odds with myself.  Yes, you heard me right, I'm arguing with myself over this.  I'm trying to make some sort of sense of it.  These three points are where I'm stuck going back and forth...  First, these social media companies are businesses.  They do have the right to refuse service to anyone they choose, for any reason, at any time.  I mean, I have that right in my own business, too!  That the right of a business owner to make that determination, especially if said customer, or in this case end user, is not making it easy to have under your care, so to speak.

Secondly, we have Freedom of Speech.  This is the one that has me confused on a number of fronts when it comes to social media.  How do you enforce Freedom of Speech when you have a world-wide site, and many users are in countries that don't have Freedom of Speech?  And is a privately owned company bound to provide the place for a person to exercise their Freedom of Speech as they see fit?  Would you, running your business, allow anybody to show up and say whatever they wanted, even if it hurt your business in the process?  This becomes a discussion for which I need to visit with someone much smarter than I am!  

And my final question is the major tough question:  Does "A" or "The" Government have the rights, the power, the ability, to dictate what your privately owned company can or cannot do?  I mean, we're not talking about allowing a company to partake in illegal activity, but rather, can a government dictate to you how you run your affairs for your business?  I have to admit that some of this heads in the direction of a Government being helpful to a business, so said business isn't in trouble.  The other direction this can go is when Government twists and starts to control its people in ways our Constitution says is unacceptable.

What confuses this matter even further is the rise of a new platform named Parler, and now it seems to be falling to the wayside.  And what's even more confusing is how Facebook, Instagram, and many other companies are pointing at Parler and saying one thing, while they themselves are operating under a completely different set of rules.  If you're running a business that does the same thing as Facebook, to some extent, you'd think that the same rules would apply to both companies, right?  Well, apparently, that's not the case.

The BBC News has a recent article entitled "Facebook's Biden Problem."  This article discusses how Facebook's Owner, Mark Zuckerberg, and President Biden are not on good terms.  The article discusses how there's a crucial piece of legislation named Section 230 that insulated Facebook, the company, from the posts made by users on Facebook.  If this "Section 230" were to be removed, how anything illegal or questionable that is posted would be the responsibility of Facebook, the business entity.  President Biden is on record, in an Interview with the New York Times, as stating that he would like to revoke Section 230 immediately.  

And now, President Biden has also stated in several interviews with the BBC News and others that he wants to set up an oversight program of some sort, to help break up companies like Facebook.   He has also stated that he "wants more diversity and more competition in Big Tech."  These discussions have been going on since about twelve years ago, and are actually nothing new.  But with the more recent events that have occurred, it still raises the question of how much a Government can tell a business how to operate.  

I have to fully admit that I don't know what to think, as is often the case.  I end up looking at this and thinking that it is a far more complicated thing than I'd like to admit.  It's a far more complicated topic than I'd even want to spend time thinking about too hard.  And at some point, Business needs to run as Business needs to run.  And the Government needs to not meddle with Business as much as possible, as that has incredibly bad side effects and end results.  I guess that these are the challenges of walking a path that's never been seen before in our History; we get to learn as we go.  And in that respect, there truly is nothing new under the sun.

This article was orginally reported by
Mark Tobola

Mark Tobola is a resident of Thorp and weekly columnist.