MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) — Last week, Facebook and Instagram blocked President Donald Trump; Snapchat indefinitely locked his account; and Twitter permanently suspended him from its site.
Amazon, Apple and Google pulled its technical support for Parler, a social media site favored by the far-right.
So, what might this tell us about the future of social media? WCCO spoke with Jane Kirtley, professor of media law and ethics at the University of Minnesota.
“Well, it’s a very interesting question, isn’t it,” Kirtley said. “Because if we believe that there are too few people controlling social media, you can see that there actually is a threat in the future that those social media companies could control a lot of the information and lot of the opinions the public has access to.”
Private sector organizations like Twitter, Facebook, Amazon and Google aren’t beholden to the protections of speech afforded by First Amendment like the United States government. They create user rules for themselves.
“Do we trust these social media companies? Do we trust them to make those decisions?” Kirtley said. “I think that’s where the real questions are going to rise as we move throughout this year.”
Some experts say part of the reason the tech companies waited until now to limit President Trump is due to a fear of regulation from the government.
Josh Pasek, a professor of communications and media at the University of Michigan, says what’s ahead for these companies is a big unknown.
“They’re thinking they’d rather get ahead of some of that by policing the extreme stuff themselves,” Pasek said.
Lawmakers could repeal or reform Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act. That says tech companies can’t be held liable for content created by someone else, and gives the companies themselves discretion on what to allow.
Kirtley said lawmakers could also try to break up what they see as monopolies.
“It is far more likely that a future justice department will go after them on anti-trust grounds,” Kirtley said. “They are vulnerable on that. They know they are, and they’re already being faced with lawsuits about that.”
Kirtley said what happens to the future of these social media sites is hard to know, and could be left up to the incoming Biden administration.
“I do not know, but I would anticipate that we will see new players in this field,” she said. “There’s going to be seen as basically a gap that needs to be filled, whether I come from the right or the left on the political spectrum.”