John Naughton lends his weight to the debate on social media and freedom of speech in his Observer article on the furore over Trump and social media but let’s his own bias get in the way.
John Naughton goes back in time when the land grab for social media was an aspirational age when the new players were the protectors of free speech in the face of much criticism. How times have changed. Now Facebook and Twitter are in the mature stage of their development cycle they need to protect their profits as public companies and this entails responding to questions about their reputation. So the furore over Trump and his provocative posts led to a climbdown on free speech in preference for taking decisions on ethics and morality.
John Naughton calls this “the bottom line is that this is actually not about Trump at all: it’s about untrammelled monopoly power, specifically Facebook’s monopoly control of the virtual railway line that ferries ideas and information into people’s heads.” Ultimately this affects us all.
No number of grand masters that Facebooks hides behind with its “supreme court” can hide behind the reality that – as John Naughton argues” this is not for any social media to be calling the shots on. Social media is a public square that governments should be protecting through regulation and not leaving to the whim of the algorithm or protection of monopoly profits.
Unfortunately he lets his bias get in the way of freedom of speech with his own personal dislike of Trump’s behaviour: “In the end, it took the president inciting his followers to sack the Capitol to convince Zuckerberg and co that “the current context is now fundamentally different, involving use of our platform to incite violent insurrection against a democratically elected government”. Alas, there was no incitement. Even Facebook could only at best call it a “risk.” He may have extremist supporters that he encourages, and be obnoxious in his narcissism and divisiveness but he is not guilty of what his haters are accusing him of. Ultimately social media needs to go back to its roots and leave ethics and politics to the establishment.