Claiming that “right-wing voices are being censored,” Republican-led legislatures in Florida and Texas have introduced legislation to “end Big Tech censorship.” They say that the dominant tech platforms block legitimate speech without ever articulating their moderation policies, that they are slow to admit their mistakes, and that there is no meaningful due process for people who think the platforms got it wrong.
So is everyone else
But it’s not just conservatives who have their political speech blocked by social media giants. It’s Palestinians and other critics of Israel, including many Israelis. And it’s queer people, of course. We have a whole project tracking people who’ve been censored, blocked, downranked, suspended and terminated for their legitimate speech, from punk musicians to peanuts fans, historians to war crimes investigators, sex educators to Christian ministries.
Content moderation is hard at any scale, but even so, the catalog of big platforms’ unforced errors makes for sorry reading. Experts who care about political diversity, harassment and inclusion came together in 2018 to draft the Santa Clara Principles on Transparency and Accountability in Content Moderation but the biggest platforms are still just winging it for the most part.
The situation is especially grim when it comes to political speech, particularly when platforms are told they have a duty to remove “extremism.”
The Florida and Texas social media laws are deeply misguided and nakedly unconstitutional, but we get why people are fed up with Big Tech’s ongoing goat-rodeo of content moderation gaffes.
So what can we do about it?
Let’s start with talking about why platform censorship matters. In theory, if you don’t like the moderation policies at Facebook, you can quit and go to a rival, or start your own. In practice, it’s not that simple.
First of all, the internet’s “marketplace of ideas” is severely lopsided at the platform level, consisting of a single gargantuan service (Facebook), a handful of massive services (YouTube, Twitter, Reddit, TikTok, etc.) and a constellation of plucky, struggling, endangered indieweb alternatives.