Social Media's Fraud In The InducemenT
Rep. Julio Gonzalez, M.D., J.D.
On September 11, 2018, Peter Suderman the managing editor of Reason.com, wrote an opinion piece in The New York Times warning of the slippery slope in regulating social media.
He missed the point.
The article comes on the heels of multiple threats to freedom of speech and the free exchange of opinion and information displayed by multiple social media giants. Facebook has been accused of playing an active role in filtering the information flowing through its outlet. Far from denying it, Facebook has embraced that task. Indeed, Facebook’s Vice President of Messaging, David Marcus, has been quoted as saying, “[Facebook is] here in the middle to protect the quality and integrity of your messages and to ensure that you’re not going to get a lot of stuff you don’t want.”
Since when is that Facebook's responsibility? As a matter of fact, it is impossiblefor Facebook or any other social media outlet to keep us from getting "a lot of stuff [we] don't want!"
And just this week, conditions at Facebook got even more threatening when Mark Zuckerberg, the founder of Facebook, announced it would be regulating the content of posts to ascertain the authenticity of sources and information. Of course, he couches this with his concern for Russian meddling in America's election process, a concern that we all share, but for Zuckerberg, the issue is not one of preserving the free exchange of ideas, but of striking "the right balance."According to Zuckerberg, Facebook will be taking on the responsibility of "improving our defenses," and "removing fake news."
But is that even possible?
Media giants such as Facebook and Twitter have admitted they have algorithms aimed at detecting the dissemination of everything from fake news to hate speech. But one man's offensive speech is another's steeple of literature.
And then, of course, is the issue of political speech. Numerous conservative writers, amongst them public servants have been shadow banned on Twitter. Shadow banning is a covert method through which tweets are discoverable when sought, but will not spontaneously pop up on another's news feed. The effect is to significantly limit the exposure of commentary offensive to Twitter. Not offensive to you; nor objectively offensive; but rather, offensive to Twitter! The practice has been so noticeable that it has Congress investigating after it was discovered that the practice was disparately affecting Republicans
The whole situation begs the question, why would we ever entrust these corporate giants with something as precious as filtering our political speech?
Of course, the answer is we should not. But that's not what bothers Suderman. In his article, the major concern is the overwhelming bombardment of extraneous information upon the user. According to Suderman, "In practice, the actual experience of social media, for many users, is not one of control but of virtual bombardment, in which a flood of ideas and opinions that are irritating, dull and often outright offensive often seem impossible to avoid."
Suderman's concern is a valid one, but this is not the greater evil.
The big problem is the insistence of medial giants like Facebook, Twitter, Google, Amazon, and others posing as neutral conveyors of information to actively filter and control the type of information they allow to progress through their channels, particularly within the silo of political speech.
Our Framers saw a big threat in government's control of political speech and of the pursuit of the truth. As we see daily, the tendency for government to manipulate and suppress political speech continues to be a threat, but there is a new player in town, one no less effective; the social media giant.
Suderman asserts what is presently a reality: "social media corporations, as private entities, have the right to ban anyone, for any or no reasons."
Not if they hold themselves out to be an equal conduit for all speech and then don't.
Fraud is the wrongful or criminal deception committed with the intent to cause a personal or financial gain for the deceiver. If it is done in the inducement it is done with the aim of getting another party to act in a certain manner. Here, social media giants claim to be the neutral purveyors of the flow of your information. Twitter claims to be "what's happening in the world and what people are talking about," not what only certain, politically similar people are talking about. And Facebook's mission statement claims the company exists to "give people the power to build community and bring the world closer together." It's notcertain communities, or certainparts of the world, politically or otherwise.
When a social media giant claims to equally welcome all, it benefits financially. When it fails to do so by suppressing certain speech after luring its clients into participating, it engages in deceit. If it does so for profit, it engages in fraud.
Generally, government ought not interfere in the private affairs of men. But when a giant organization takes advantage of its position to clandestinely suppress or promote the views of others, it is proper for government to step in, through its regulatory capacity, and right the wrong that has been created.
For Twitter, Facebook, and others, they are getting dangerously close to that point.
Dr. Julio Gonzalez is an orthopaedic surgeon and lawyer living in Venice, Florida. He is the author of The Federalist Pages and serves in the Florida House of Representatives. He can be reached through www.thefederalistpages.comto arrange a lecture or book signing.