Should Social Media Sites Be Allowed to Censor Content?

Should Social Media Sites Be Allowed to Censor Content?

( – Social media platforms have changed the world. Sites like Facebook and Twitter make it possible to talk to people globally, build up huge networks, join in discussions and get your message out with a speed and reach that’s never been possible before. These platforms should be a powerful tool for liberty and free speech – but, recently, it seems to be turning into a highly-censored echo chamber where only one side of the argument gets a fair hearing.

Is this justifiable? Should social media companies be allowed to decide what people are allowed to say on their platforms?

Freedom or Fairness?

There’s a straightforward Libertarian argument for letting social media companies do what they like. After all, the sites are private property. These tech firms developed the platforms at their own expense. They pay for the infrastructure they run on, and for the support that keeps them going. It’s easy – and tempting – to argue that this gives them the right to censor content if they want. After all, if Twitter was a radio station Jack Dorsey would get to decide what was broadcast on it. Why should a microblogging site be any different?

On the other hand, not many radio stations have the reach of companies like Twitter. Unless you own the BBC World Service – and you don’t – the impact of your broadcasts is a lot less than a social media platform can achieve.

Twitter has over 300 million active users. Should Dorsey be allowed to deliver biased news and opinions to such a large number of people? Their combined influence can skew things heavily.

A Free Market of Ideas

The more sophisticated Libertarian argument is social media sites should allow free speech as much as possible, only censoring speech that’s likely to cause harm – incitements to violence, for example, or egregiously wrong health advice. That way, everyone gets a chance to make their arguments and other users can make up their own minds.

Unfortunately, right now the censors are winning the argument. Conservative sources are frequently silenced on social media, while Liberals seem to get a mostly free platform. Unless that changes, social media will become an incubator for extremism – and, in the aftermath of the recent riots, some would argue it is one already.

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