‘Do we want the most important speech platforms in the world to avoid controversy?’
(Kaylee McGhee, Liberty Headlines) The American Civil Liberties Union warned social media companies to be cautious when using hate speech policies against controversial figures, like Alex Jones, saying it sets a dangerous precedent that can easily be “misused and abused.”
Ben Wizner, director of ACLU’s Speech, Privacy, and Technology Project told the Huffington Post that although private companies like Facebook and Twitter have the constitutional right to ban Alex Jones, the founder of InfoWars well known for promoting conspiracy theories, they should be careful when using such a “subjective” standard.
“I have some of the same concerns about platforms making those decisions,” Wizner said. “Governments at least purport to be acting solely in the public interest. So their interest might be in avoiding controversy, but do we want the most important speech platforms in the world to avoid controversy?”
Although it once was considered a vanguard of free speech even to the point of defending white supremacist groups‘ right to march, today’s ACLU has been notably leftward tilted, staying mute on key conservative issues, and often actively antagonizing Christian religious liberties groups.
Wizner said there’s a difference between preventing offensive speech and outright censorship.
There are ways to combat hate speech that aren’t as “worrisome” as banning an individual from a platform, he said, which closely resembles censorship.
“From a free expression standpoint, you would say if these platforms want to minimize the impact of the offending speech, it’s preferable to do so in a way that falls short of complete censorship,” Wizner said.
Wizner said he’s “sympathetic” toward Alex Jones’s situation, despite working for an extremely left-leaning organization.
“Who should decide what’s fake? … It’s not so easy to do in a way that is objective. If these platforms get in the business of trying to be the arbiters of truth or falsity, pretty soon everyone is going to have something to complain about,” he said.
“Do we really want corporations that are answerable to their shareholders and their bottom lines being the ones who decide which political speech Americans should see or not see?” he added. “Because that’s what we’re asking for here.”