As we enter an increasingly techno-centric world, social media is unquestionably crucial for communication and connectivity. Social media provides an equal playing field to both those in power and the general public to engage in necessary discourse. Social media should maintain the standard that users be allowed to speak freely. However, if those in higher positions are intentionally endangering the public, then social media platforms should be held accountable for the regulation of their content. Despite the fact that Donald Trump was rightfully censored for dangerous and harmful rhetoric, it is imperative to reassess punishment that social media users receive and the amount of power big tech companies should possess. In turn, big tech companies need a check on their power through antitrust laws and regulating agencies.
President Trump undoubtedly encouraged insurrectionist behavior. For months, he attacked the foundation of democracy by claiming the election was rigged. Additionally, he touted that votes were deleted, ballots were dumped, and dead people voted, which were unfounded claims. His online rhetoric encouraged a lawless, violent mob to break into the sacred Capitol. As the leader of the free world, it is completely irresponsible to spread misinformation, and highly concerning to promote insurrectionism. In response to President Trump’s incitement of dangerous behavior through inaccurate tweets, Twitter attempted to prevent further violence by banning Mr. Trump’s account. Although violence should be reprimanded, the ability of platforms such as Twitter, Instagram, Facebook, and YouTube to wield the unchecked power to swiftly and permanently ban any account is morally questionable. Instead, big tech companies should institute temporary bans when faced with users promoting violence. Regardless of whose account is being terminated, indefinitely banning any citizen from public discourse without offering them an opportunity to return is antithetical to democracy and the free exchange of ideas.
With platforms such as Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram hosting billions of users, they must hold themselves accountable to implement the rules and allow citizens to reenter public discourse. Twitter’s termination of President Trump’s account prompted enormous backlash from conservatives about Twitter’s violation of First Amendment rights. The First Amendment only limits government actors and, due to the fact that Twitter is a private company, the tech giant acted within its legal rights to ban President Trump from the platform. Though the action was legal, it sets a controversial precedent for all social media users. As ACLU lawyer Kate Ruane states, “President Trump can turn to his press team or Fox News to communicate with the public, but others -like the many Black, brown and L.G.B.T.Q. activists who have been censored by social media companies- will not have that luxury.” As companies rotate through leadership, the concern of who and what is censored becomes an increasing problem. Without proper laws or regulations, instead of the power over accounts belonging to citizens, Tech Giants possess the ability to abuse their power.
The preservation of public discourse requires extensive antitrust laws or a new regulator that prevent big tech companies such as Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook from wielding excessive power. While systemically important financial institutions are regulated through the FDA, FAA, and FCC, no such regulator exists for social media platforms. Antitrust laws itself are not well-suited to address all of the big tech companies and creating a regulator for big tech is long overdue. In the meanwhile, big tech companies must be transparent about their algorithms’ and thoughtful about their modes of censorship.