Social-Media Companies Threaten Democracy

By | August 28, 2019

Today the gatekeepers of meaningful freedom of speech are the social media companies. But there’s just been scandal after scandal of how these companies have abused their powers to really not serve “We, the people”, but rather to serve their own corporate interests in ways that stifle our speech, and really threaten democracy. What’s really noteworthy is that the First Amendment imposes absolutely no limit on private sector entities. So Twitter, and Facebook, and Google, and all of the social media have complete freedom to pick and choose who gets to speak and what they can say, and who does not get to speak and what may not be said. They are completely unconstrained by the First Amendment and they have just unfettered censorship power. There have been many complaints by members of racial minorities who have been subject to hate speech, that they will post to their friends and say “listen to this horrible racist message” and then that gets taken down as hate speech. There’s no ability to distinguish the context. Is it a message that is endorsing the hateful idea, or is it criticizing the hateful idea? These nuances are just lost. Censorship is an extremely blunt tool, and if we want to prevent them from exercising that vast power in ways that discriminate against certain speakers or certain ideas, we have to use other laws and other tools to constrain that power. Many experts are arguing that social media companies should function the way the phone companies do, as what’s called a common carrier, where they would be required to carry every message of anybody, unless the message is illegal, unless it could be punished consistent with the First Amendment. In the United States these discussions are at the exploration phase, but already the response of the social media companies have been to engage in more self-regulation to try to ward off actual regulation. Anybody who cares about freedom of speech has to care about what the powerful social media companies are doing, because that is where the action is today. If you don’t have free speech online, on social media, you don’t have free speech at all in any meaningful sense.

71 thoughts on “Social-Media Companies Threaten Democracy

  1. emmett stone Post author

    These are no longer platforms but publishers; they just use our free materials

  2. Anastasia Rose Post author

    Yeahhh we know, it's all about personal agenda

  3. emmett stone Post author

    These are no longer platforms but publishers; they just use our free material

  4. Zeitgeist X Post author

    American ignorance all over this video. Typical cliche American centric view points on free speech. Go live in other societies and see how no one shares this view point and even in Europe, their notions of free speech is different. Only Americans can be shocked that holocaust denial is a crime in Germany and no a free speech issue

  5. Alicia Bardotte Post author

    so youre trying to tell me this is not the voice of meryl streep?

  6. J Mak Post author

    I'm surprised and happy the Atlantic made a video like this.

  7. Karttikeya Bihani Post author

    Wish such topics are discussed in a more flushed out manner and in longer videos. I know a lot of work goes into every minute of such a video with the animation but that's what makes great content!

  8. Evan Fields Post author

    Unfortunately laws that govern technology are slow to catch up to modernity. When I look at our current polictal climate I don't feel comfortable that our law makers are capable of implementing nuanced policies that are fair and a-political. It's going to get worse before it get's even worse.

  9. Rashad Post author

    This person is showing their age when they describe social media as something where free speech laws should apply. Social media isn't a public utility, nor is it a public space, no matter how many people are or aren't using it.

  10. Raymond James Post author

    For writing "Trump is rich white trash" fb censored the posting and wouldn't allow me to post/answer for two weeks. How can that be considered "hate speech?" Could this have something to do with my repeated Bernie Sanders and extinction Rebellion shares?

  11. John Deir Post author

    China has a unique system where ratings are generated per individuals and the government controls all this and can deprive a individual certain right according to the government judgement. I'm not in favor of this but what if a rating system is developed per online platforms/individuals as to accuracy, truth? Could something of this bases be developed that allows free speech but has a rating per posts? Something to consider maybe?

  12. IglooDweller Post author

    It's our fault for giving them the monopoly on our speech.

  13. Sy Sharp Post author

    BREXIT was a democratic vote, the hateful EU and British government seem to be against the native people.
    The world is silent

  14. duo315 Post author

    "The gatekeepers of meaningful freedom of speech" is 4chan. In 100 years people will realize how important the site is, not because of its vulgar content but because anonymity and free speech are very hard to find on other websites

  15. Alex Franco Post author

    Yelling Freedom of speech is becoming a dog whistle for reactionaries who want corporate domination of people as long as it supports their ugly agendas. And then they get pissed when they get booted off for clear policy violation.

  16. Eric Alvaro Post author

    Actually, I'm positively surprised by this video – it was not what I was hoping for. By what I understood, the author is advocating for something like "let the justice decide what messages should or shouldn't be on these huge giant platforms: if it's illegal, take it down, if not, leave it there". And if that's the case I agree with her 100%.

    These huge platforms – we are not talking about some niche little social network, we are talking about pretty much the way most people in the west communicate nowadays – and all this control about what gets posted or not, what can be said or not, falls under this body of nonelected individuals without any public accountability, unlike a judge or a congressman.

    Basically what can be said on the internet nowadays, is decided by a very small group of people in California.

  17. Q Tuttle Post author

    Not just some companies, but those behind all of the secrets, the Bilderbergs group. They are behind our corrupt deep state, as well as our conditioning to accept it. Nearly all conspiracies are true that is why they cencore them. Conservatives aren't as controllable as liberals so they are cencored also.

  18. _¿Eres tonto?_ Post author

    If you choose to be interested in preventing this, vote for Andrew yang.

  19. Eric Alvaro Post author

    Also, to all those people renting about "oh, facebook is a private property, they can do whatever the hell they want..". So it's okay with you if a private company decides to not serve minorities? It's the same principle. Unless your answer is also "yes", you're being contradictory, you're basically saying "companies can do whatever the hell they want…. when I agree with what they are doing".

    Now, whether we're talking about some company denying service to a given group of people or not allowing a given set of opinions on their platform, I think in both cases, smaller companies should be able to do that, should have much more leeway. If you have a little cake shop and you don't want to serve black people or Mexicans, or even white people, you should have this right because it's a small company, you denying service to that person won't have thaat much of an impact on his life, they can just go to the next store on the other side of the street. The same goes if you have some small niche social platform, you decide who posts there or not.

    But, as soon as your company starts to get bigger and start becoming these huge corporations, I think you start to lose this right of denying service to people. The same way I don't think Wallmart shouldn't have the right to deny service to gay people, I don't think Facebook should be allowed to deny services to conservatives, or anyone if that matter.

  20. Masha Mitchell Post author

    Well this was dramatic. The first amendment is about the government not making laws to limit speech. Private companies can decide for themselves what they want on their platform. Your ability to be an a-hole still exists, just can't do it on Twitter.

  21. Lanwarder Post author

    Social media company are private companies and have no responsibility respecting the right to free speech. They have their own sets of rules which you agree to when you sign up (you know that thing you didn't take the time to read before pressing the "I agree" button?")

  22. pre nuptials Post author

    Let's not forget traditional media companies like the Atlantic were disrupting democacy long before social media

  23. Ridan Wise Post author

    I'm sorry but in an era where hate speech is the holy Grail of profitable content, I believe this video could have done better than to preach for a "let us all say whatever we want to say and let the archaic justice system we have in place (the same one that allowed for every single injustice perpetrated against minorities in US history) figure out what's good and what's not"

  24. Andreana's Unusuals Post author

    Facebook has utterly lost its fucking mind. Everyone with a page over 5 yrs old, that I know, has been on 30 day blocks, over and over.
    Super fucked up. I Insulted the flag, skycloth demands worship, got a 30 day ban.

  25. wagdog2 Post author

    The government has the responsibility of guaranteeing the rights of citizenship. This responsibility can't be "outsourced" to media companies who have a financial stake. If the government does not protect our rights of citizenship, we have no such rights.

  26. Garrek Reed Post author

    visuals in this video are too distracting, that could also be a problem

  27. aluisious Post author

    Did no one have free speech before 2003? I can still say whatever I want to people I meet, which is about the only thing most people were ever able to do. If I want to hold a rally and say "the rhombus is an illegal entity," I can do it just the same now as I could 200 years ago.

  28. fцику мцику Post author

    "Self-regulation". I chuckled. The freer we are to express ourselves, the tighter we're controlled.

  29. Bookwormbandit Post author

    youre not gonna fix the problem by discussing the situation dishonestly..the problem aint poc enduring racial animus…and trying to be woke here compounds the problem..and continues the paternalistic authoritarianism of the left

  30. lostinthelookingglas Post author

    The animation is really dynamic and unsettling. I love it.

  31. Gerardo Ochoa-Vargas Post author

    The petitio principii tout court, isn’t it? Your provincial fixation with the USA cannot fathom the existence of true freedom elsewhere. Because, as per the narrative, the threat to democracy can be only overcome with the First Amendment… which of course has yielded the whole debacle you are addressing.

    Certainly the intention of the video was to deter the social media enterprises tailored censorship and exclusion, I acknowledge. However, you may be looping and walking in circles, if your solutions are based upon the only premises to which you are familiar.

    Boys will be boys, and the USA will be boxy.

  32. Dalton Growley Post author

    I also hate laissez faire capitalism, and the grip that powerful corporations have on our society. Social media is just a small component of that corporate control though. Focusing on only social media misses the larger point. You picked the wrong battle.

  33. Chris Palamidis Post author

    Social media aren't oxygen. You don't need them. You decide to use them having first agreed to and accepted their terms of service. Additionally, the narrator doesn't explain why when person A attacks person B in a racist manner in platform C, why should the platform C be liable or responsible of monitoring the conversation and limiting what person A can and can't say? If person A were to write a letter to person B and send it via the post office would anybody believe that the postal service has any liability on what person A said? Person B has every freedom to take any legal action against person A but why people think that should be the platform's problem is hard to see.

  34. Bunker Sieben Post author

    Racism is not speech worthy of upholding. Criticising racism is not endorsement. AI is not so intelligent, nor are the idiots in charge.

    Also, whoever did the animations had one hell of an acid trip.

  35. Zenithx3 Post author

    They are Private companies. They choose Everything, legally. If you use the program for social connection, news, hate, anything you agree to their terms. Social networks are not free, you pay one way or another. They do not have Any responsibility to anyone but their shareholders. Reality check.

  36. The Atlantic Post author

    Watch more from the Speech Wars series here:

  37. Master Liberaster Post author

    Wouldn't making social media post just everythung give way to populist right-wing ideas?
    For now, it seems that most influential Media are leftist. So why change that and give homophobic, trtansphobic, islamophobic, pro-life and anti-vaxx activists the right to speak?

    Not all of rheir claims might be classified as illegal, so the point stands

  38. Scarlett Symetria Post author

    Thing is if government entities ever had power or law implemented over social media, authoritarian governments would totally threaten free speech, and it wouldn't be a neutral platform for people to speak out. Because social media now are beyond the jurisdiction of other countries to control the contents, that makes authoritarian governments want to ban them. But people know how access the contents they want if they want awareness. You just have to be able to get around with algorithms to send message across and VPNs to access them. In my country, the TV channel is government owned and controlled content. Everyday the viewers are being fed with a linear content of government boot-licking propaganda for decades. There is really no platform for questioning, debate or expression of thought. If it weren't for social media existence and awareness we would still be stupid fools funding the politicians lavish lifestyle with our taxes. We finally overturned our government.

  39. Filipe Almeida Post author

    Private companies who provide online social networks are under no constraint to guarantee free speech. As it should be. The concepts of common carrier and net neutrality extend to private communications and the technical aspects of delivery (equal bandwidth/speed for all content). Not the nature of publicly available content posted on private online forums. Just as TV networks have full editorial control, Facebook, Twitter, Youtube, and etc. retain the right to censor as they so please, to the same extent that I can invite people to put up signs on my property, but I have the final absolute say on what goes up or down.

  40. Mi Ki Post author

    The animation makes this topic much more scarier and disturbing. And it is.

  41. MG Massey Post author

    Yes…ive got a First Amendment case I'd love to discuss offline with any Civil Rights attorney.
    It concerns the rights of survivors of pedophiles and trafficked people.

  42. Helen Stanford Post author

    I'm all for social media sites regulating what they feel like. As pointed out, they're in the private sector so aren't obligated to give anyone the right to free speech. As someone who's used chat rooms since the mid-90s, when I worked for MSN, I'm well aware of the provider monitoring what can and cannot be said. You'd get kicked off or banned quickly if you violated their terms of service — same holds for social media providers. As with any service, people can always choose not to use the site if they don't like it.

  43. Baghuul Post author

    Right wingers who are against regulation because of MUH FREE MARKET… now want regulation when they cant push their fascist bigotry. lol

  44. Radimash Post author

    This video is wrong btw

    The 1st ammendment is there to protect your free speech. And all it means is that you cannot be arrested for saying certain things. The government and police aren't going to come down on you for posting controversial stuff onto Twitter or Facebook.

    It doesnt mean these platforms have to let you keep saying stuff if enough people complain. If something you say gets reported enough and then your account get taken down or suspended, that's completely legal, and doesn't violate free speech.

    You can still say whatever you want, just not on that platform, if they dont want it to be so. The way you have your right to free speech, social media platforms have their right to decide who takes part in their userbase, and it's as simple as that.

  45. Mario Rafael Post author

    Freedom of speech doesn't even exist without Freedom of thought.


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