Conservatives accuse Facebook, Twitter of censoring free speech as Election Day nears

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Thursday, October 22, 2020
Conservatives accuse Facebook, Twitter of censoring free speech
After the 2016 election, Bay Area tech companies were criticized for not doing enough to stop disinformation. Now, just days before Election Day, some conservatives say the changes are violating their freedom of speech.

SAN FRANCISCO (KGO) -- After the 2016 election tech companies were criticized for not doing enough to stop disinformation. Just weeks before Election Day, social media giants are facing big criticism from conservative voices who say they have gone too far.

Some users claim new rules are censoring their free speech, but Twitter and Facebook say that's not the case. Social media platforms claim Section 230 of the communication decency act protects them.

"So what Section 230 really did at its core is open up the internet. It allowed free speech to flourish," said UC Hastings Law Professor and director of the LexLab, Drew Amerson.

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But conservatives claim freedom of speech is being violated.

"If they conservatives are up in arms because Twitter is only banning information that comes from conservatives then they can find a new platforms. There is any platform called "Parler" that some conservatives have moved to," said Amerson.

Many point to last week's New York Post article about alleged communication between Joe Biden's son Hunter Biden and a Ukrainian energy company adviser. The article was blocked from distribution by both Twitter and Facebook.

"As I understand it, their rational was not necessarily related to the content of that post but that the way the information had been obtained through hacking was why they wanted to block the distribution," said Brandi Nonnecke, Founding Director of the CITRIS Policy Lab at UC Berkeley.

Nonnecke says transparency is imperative for these companies.

"We need to make sure that platforms are not engaging in partisanship but I say that with caution because platforms are private companies. They can post or curate or spread content as they wish. They are not beholden to provide equality in voice," said Nonnecke.

After a backlash, Twitter said it would update its policy.

"Straight blocking of URLs was wrong, and we updated our policy and enforcement to fix," said Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey.

Andy Stone with Facebook's communication team responded:

"While I will intentionally not link to the New York Post, I want be clear that this story is eligible to be fact checked by Facebook's third-party fact checking partners. In the meantime, we are reducing its distribution on our platform," said Stone.

Raising this question: "Are social media platforms opening themselves up to legislation by choosing what type of content is distributed?"

"Absolutely. They are effective monopolies using a public resource and once they decide that they are going to push their own views to the exclusion of other views I think it calls out for government regulation," said UC Hastings constitutional law professor, Matthew Coles.

Professor Coles says Section 230 protects these private companies, "Section 230 was designed to allow them not to be liable if they made decisions about blocking people and that is precisely what they are doing."

On Thursday, the Senate Judiciary Committee is expected to vote on whether to subpoena Facebook and Twitter CEOs to testify about alleged anti-conservative bias.

VIDEO: Suspect arrested after free speech rally organizer assaulted in San Francisco, officials say

An event billed as a free speech rally and a protest against Twitter turned violent Saturday. The event featured some well-known conservative personalities, but organizers were forced to cancel the rally minutes after it started.