When a story broke in the New York Post regarding Hunter Biden and Burisma, people took to Twitter and Facebook to share the news. Without warning and without explanation, posts were blocked. Accounts were suspended. Questions were asked. From everyday Americans to the White House press secretary to the account of the Post itself, Big Tech turned into Big Brother, and in near Orwellian fashion. Almost immediately, heads exploded. GOP senators wanted heads to roll, calling this an “attempt to rig an election.” Twitter boss Jack Dorsey did apologize, but Twitter still blocked links to the Post’s story.
Critics claim this is censorship. Others say an unverified story has no place on Twitter or Facebook. Regardless of which side you’re on, social media’s impact on a free and fair election, while shaping a narrative, cannot be taken lightly. If you don’t see information, how can you possibly formulate an opinion. If you don’t see news, especially written by credible news organizations, how can you make an important decision in the voting booth?
But some see Twitter’s move differently. Because the story was blocked, additional attention was paid to possible holes in what the Post has been reporting, sending it, for some, into the world of “fake news.” So, in essence, Twitter’s action caused friction. And it also allowed critics of the story to take a deep breath and form alternate opinions before the Biden attack teams hit the airwaves.
Facebook seems to be doing its part to protect election integrity, and has stated that it will temporarily suspend all political and issue-based advertising after the polls close on Election Day. This comes on the heels of the company facing backlash from allowing misinformation and political hate speech to dominate. And if either side disputes the outcome of the election, Facebook has dozens of wrist-slapping measures in place to keep things in check. A big step for Big Tech?
Twitter will surely have to answer for its actions, and expect Section 230 of the U.S. Communications Act, which gives Internet companies like Twitter and Facebook liability protection, to be seriously scrutinized. If Section 230 goes away, you can expect the landscape of social media to change forever for the roughly 3 billion active monthly users.
If and when there are changes, one fact will remain the same. As long as there is social media there will be political views, as it surely is the “town square” of the electronic age. In the town square, people share information and ideas and have differences of opinion. There’s no filter, and there’s no blocking of information. People argue and fuss, raise their voices, take sides, fight to make their point and, at the end of the day, are all passionate about their position. Good or bad, right or wrong, right or left, it’s the sharing of ideas and the freedom to share those ideas that truly matter.
And not just within 280 characters.
• Eric Schiffer is chairman of DigitalMarketing.com and Reputation Management Consultants and serves as CEO of the Patriarch Organization in Los Angeles, California.
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