Social Media Giants Regulate Speech On Their Platforms, But Who Regulates Their Regulation?

I have been reading and have just finished today "The Beauty Myth" by Naomi Wolf, an incredible read which offers great insight into how the pursuit of beauty has pretty much undone all the progress that the second wave of feminism had achieved. It also delves deep into how this pursuit has been mostly architected by media advertising which capitalistic corporations use to sell the idea of beauty to women in order to keep them preoccupied and prevent them from challenging the status quo, hence keeping them as second-class citizens. It is an insightful and unputdownable read which I very much recommend for any and everyone, male or female. It is perspective-changing, to say the least. 

So about the author. Naomi Wolf has been pretty wild on social media in the last few years especially on Twitter. She is an avid backer of numerous conspiracy theories and an anti-vaxxer. On Monday, she was suspended from the micro-blogging site, and honestly, if you have been aware of the kind of stuff she has been posting on her account, you would say "well that took long enough". I have always wondered how she went from writing such a monumental book in the early 1990s to becoming such a bizarre character in recent years (this clip of her realizing that her recent book was based on a misinterpretation of an English legal term might be her villain origin story but I can't be sure). I guess people change and not always for the best.

This brings me now to the point I wanted to get into about social media giants and speech regulation. So obviously Naomi Wolf had her suspension coming for violating Twitter's terms of use but the issue of big social media companies being able to pretty much silence people on their platforms has been up for debate for a while now since  Donald Trump's suspension from major social networking sites after the infamous January 6 Capitol Building insurrection incident. Trump too had it coming for peddling violence on the platforms through his accounts but the fact that his suspension (on Facebook and Instagram) was upheld for 2 years last week caused a stir both from people anti and pro his suspension.

The former felt that Facebook was impeding on the former US president's right to freedom of speech and was using his suspension for political motives while the latter felt that Facebook was being too soft on him and should have not only suspended him way before the January 6 happenings, (Trump, like Naomi Wolf, had been pretty wild with his statements on social media over the last few years) but should also have upheld his suspension permanently instead of just 2 years, citing the potential impact of his presence when he comes back. More recently too, the government of Nigeria banned Twitter in the country as a result of the platform deleting President Buhari's tweets which according to Twitter, violated their terms of use.

The fact that platforms like Facebook and Twitter have garnered so much power over the years to a point where they are able to silence entire heads of state shows the importance of minutely scrutinizing the way they do their speech regulation. The polarized opinions on Trump's suspension and Nigeria's banning of Twitter show that it is going to be difficult for tech giants to satisfy everyone regarding how they do their regulation so the question then becomes, how are they going to ensure no individual, civic organization, government, etc feels hard done and disadvantaged by their regulation?

The platforms control so much of the global share of conversation, political or otherwise, that the fact that they have the monopoly to decide who gets a voice and who gets silenced is an issue of concern. A monopoly, after all, benefits no one but only the monopolist in the long run. But what can be done to wrestle this monopoly of speech regulation away from the tech giants? After all, it is their platforms and they reserve the right to kick out whoever they feel is not conforming to their terms of use. 

Well, the only way is to let the market decide whether they want to continue using these platforms or seek out alternatives and so far, looking at how much the tech giants have ballooned in terms of the number of users, revenue, profitability, and other metrics, the market is fine with how they are doing things. Anti-competitive behavior by the giants has been purported as the reason why it has been so hard for alternatives to penetrate the market and challenge the incumbents but so far, such arguments haven't heard much success in the courts.

So going forward, it looks like until alternatives present themselves in the smartphone-age tech space to challenge the currently dominant players, in order to ensure that speech regulation by the tech giants is fair and is not biased towards or against anyone, we'd just have to trust them to do the right thing in terms of speech regulation. The problem is their mucky track record over the last decade has made trusting them a very risky task.


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