A handful of tech companies – mostly based in Silicon Valley – hold a great deal of power in their hands (i.e. through their user bases and platforms), and governments worldwide are trying to control that power through regulation. The companies undoubtedly do not want new regulations, but governments – recently the French government – are planning to give regulators the power to audit these tech giants if they do not delete hate content from their platforms.
Are big companies defending hate speech?
Instagram –Facebook’s photo-sharing platform – and Facebook itself banned accounts of gonzo journalist Laura Loomer, Nation of Islam leader Louis Farrakhan, conspiracy theorist Alex Jones, white supremacist Paul Nehlen, conspiracy theorist Paul Joseph Watson, and political commentator Milo Yiannopoulos on account of hateful speech by them on the platform.
It’s not just Facebook – other social networking sites, like Twitter, are banning accounts of popular personalities on account of hate speech as well. For instance, the micro-blogging site banned the account of American actor James Woods for violation of Twitter rules. Woods’ girlfriend Sara Miller told media that the account was removed because it violated Twitter’s “rules against abusive behavior.” While speaking to The Daily Wire, the actor said that he won’t be returning to the social media platform.
He revealed that Twitter demanded him to remove his Twitter post paraphrasing Ralph Waldo Emerson. Woods had earlier quoted the famous poet on the platform, posting “If you try to kill the King, you better not miss. #HangThemAll”
Twitter did not wait to find out whether it was free speech or hate speech– it took action and suspended the account. Social media platforms probably do not want any content even hinting at abusive language, which is not a bad step but still becomes a subject of debate. While there are few people disagreeing with the tech companies’ current policies, there are many who look delighted with this step. NBC reporter Ben Collins, for instance, said it is a good question as to why the companies waited so long to take these steps.
French regulators argue that Facebook should address harmful content on its platform
French President Emmanuel Macron discussed several issues related to Facebook while talking to its CEO, Mark Zuckerberg, in Paris. The tech company has failed to fight hate speech, fake news and misinformation as well as extremism across its platforms, including WhatsApp and Instagram. Sir Nick Clegg, Facebook’s new head of public policy who is also the ex-UK deputy prime minister, met Zuckerberg and President Macron to discuss the issues. The French regulators suggested the company be bound by a legal duty of care to tackle hateful content on its platform.
A report was issued by the French Minister for Digital Economy Cedric O, which noted that social networking sites were not taking enough measures to stop abuses on their platforms. According to the regulators, the government must find a balance between repressive policies which react to hate speech and preventive policies. The report also noted that the lawfulness of content should be decided in the courts.
Zuckerberg did not seem unhappy with the meeting; instead, he praised the approach of the French government. He said the same model should be followed by other countries as well.