Facebook and Twitter as arbiters of truth? Say it ain’t so, but it appears that some people want that to become reality. There’s pressure on both internet graffiti platforms to monitor, flag, and even censor content being posted there. This is a terrible idea and a complete misunderstanding of the difference between a “publisher” and a “platform”.
Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act says “No provider or user of an interactive computer service shall be treated as the publisher or speaker of any information provided by another information content provider.” This law basically shields an internet platform from liability and says they are NOT considered a publisher or arbiter of truth. This allows online communication to develop free from control of governments and the rich, and allows for open and free (and sometimes wrong or indecent) speech of people who use the platforms. The law effectively separates traditional publishers like newspapers with an internet presence—who still have an obligation for truth—from platforms or service providers (such as Twitter and Facebook) who have no obligation for truth.
It’s not up to an internet platform or service provider to police their content, it’s up to the user to do so. Consider it akin to walking down the street in a town. There’s all kinds of messages that are presented: storefronts, advertisements, playbills, graffiti, newsstands, people talking or shouting or laughing, maybe red lights and women in windows. The citizen must ‘consider the source’ and understand the possibilities being communicated, and if they see something outside the law or that might become harmful to others then it’s up to them to do something about it. They can flag it or report it or call it out or step in to ameliorate the situation or try to pass laws to change things.
If walking down one street is too overwhelming or scary for your sensibilities, pick another street. If an internet platform is ‘too loud’ or ‘too rough’ or not to your liking, pick another or put a filter on their content. Don’t force them to become a publisher. Read a publisher’s website if you want screened content.
This isn’t to say that a platform has no obligation to clean things up a bit or flag content or areas that may be harmful. It simply means that they can’t check the voracity of every claim or idea presented, nor can they force one user’s views on others. Determining truth is the job of the citizen—not the internet provider or platform.
Use parental controls to filter content and read information from watchdog organizations to help make decisions about what is suitable to your tastes. Pick an age or sensibility suitable for yourself and adjust the content accordingly, or step up and speak your mind on something and become your own watchdog; report it to someone if it’s outside the law or your idea of decency.
Or turn the damn device off and take a hike. Pick another avenue.
Truth takes time but content is king. The ramblings and musings on Twitter and Facebook are rarely more than internet graffiti or propaganda or hearsay. It’s best to look elsewhere for something with more substance.