Social Media silencing is a welcome sound for American ears

Nathan Ash, Reporter

In October, a New York Post article spread like wildfire across almost every social media platform, sending the internet into a frenzy against Democratic President-Elect Joe Biden. The article reported that Biden had a meeting with an advisor from a Ukrainian energy company named Vadym Pozharskyi and that his son, Hunter Biden, worked on the board for that company. An article by the New York Times disproved these claims through an interview with Andrew Bates, the spokesman for the Biden campaign. Bates said that Biden’s official campaign calendar had no such meeting planned and when questioned, New York Post staff was skeptical of the sources and information in the article. Social media platforms such as Facebook and Twitter quickly tried to limit the spread of the misinformed New York Post article. Twitter began to block URLs to the article and Facebook limited the distribution of the story until a third party could fact check it. 

This was just one example among hundreds that prove social media platforms have every right, both legally and morally, to censor articles that could spread false narratives to the public. Additionally, these companies should not be held to the same legal standards as the U.S. government; the users on their platforms agree to the terms and conditions of those companies and are therefore subject to censorship.

The State Action Doctrine is the principle that the responsibility of upholding the freedoms in the Constitution and the Bill of Rights only apply to the government. According to the American Bar Association, the State Action Doctrine gives private entities the legal right to censor their users and it has protected social media platforms’ ability to legally censor their users’ content to a certain extent. 

The fact that these users willingly submit their personal data and give up some of their rights to these companies and then become upset when a company partially censors them is illogical. Henry Fernandez, co-chairman of Change the Terms (an online coalition seeking to reduce hate online), gave the following quote in a CBS News article. 

“When people talk about, ‘Well, if I get kicked off of Facebook, that’s an attack on my free speech or on my First Amendment right — that’s just not true. The companies have the ability to decide what speech they will allow. They’re not the government,” Fernandez said.

Social media’s ability to censor false news also serves as a front line defense against the spread of misinformation. According to Statista, 52 percent of Americans believe the media reports fake news regularly and 29 percent of U.S. citizens believe that social media is mostly responsible for fake news. Fact-checking and limiting the distribution of articles until they are proven by a third party could reverse citizens’ distrust of the news media. 

Additionally, fake news has many negative effects on our political environment.  Politicians use fake news as both a sword to attack political adversaries and as a shield from any criticism. President Trump used the false New York Post article as evidence for corruption within the Biden family. According to AP News, Priscilla Giddings, a Republican representative of Idaho in the House of Representatives, was exposed by an article that found her to be an unqualified candidate due to her claiming homeowner’s exemption outside of her area of residence to get a tax break. Giddings quickly labeled this damaging article as “fake news,” publicly stripping the article of its integrity despite its validity. Social media could help news organizations regain their credibility in the eyes of the public and finally hold politicians accountable by validating articles that spread around the platforms.

Many conservatives are trying to extend the First Amendment to social media websites so people can freely participate in the “marketplace of ideas” to fulfill the “U.S. values of self-fulfillment in our liberty theory.” They feel that right-leaning ideas are being completely censored by the “leftist social media companies” and that people of different political affiliations are being blocked by companies from this “marketplace of ideas.” 

These arguments tend to over dramatize what social media platforms are actually doing. Facebook only limited the distribution of the New York Post’s article about the Biden family until it could validate the claims made in the article. Twitter only blocked the URLs for the New York Post article about Biden from users because it violated Twitter’s privacy policies (featuring personal emails and phone numbers).

Participating in the “marketplace of ideas” is an essential liberty and the freedom to express opinions is a staple of American culture, but the spread of information containing false or unproven  information is not an acceptable use of that core American value. The plague of fake news and the spread of misinformation through social media will continue to harm our generation if there is no stance taken against it, and these companies are working towards a solution to that problem. Our duty as members of the new generation is to support these companies’ rights along with the policies that limit false information. This will help all sides of the political spectrum find unity in factual news so our country can begin to heal the divisions that have pitted us against one another.







Artwork by Caroline Goodhart and Keely Ganong