No, The White House Isn't Colluding With Facebook To Silence Dissent; But It Sure Could Have Handled Things Better
from the what-a-mess dept
Honestly, this is the last thing I wanted to be writing about today. First, let’s make this clear: when I’ve seen political officials — both Democrats and Republicans alike — threatening to punish companies for 1st Amendment protected activities, I call it out. Indeed, I’ve been highlighting these kinds of issues for years — and it has nothing to do with politics or ideology or who I like or who I don’t like.
It’s a simple fact: the US government should not be threatening or coercing private companies into taking down protected speech.
But, over the past few days there’s been an absolutely ridiculous shit storm falsely claiming that the White House is, in fact, doing this with Facebook, leading to a whole bunch of nonsense — mainly from the President’s critics. It began on Thursday, when White House press secretary Jen Psaki, in talking about vaccine disinfo, noted that the White House had flagged vaccine disinformation to Facebook. And… critics of the President completely lost their shit claiming that it was a “First Amendment violation” or that it somehow proved Donald Trump’s case against the social media companies.
It did none of those things.
On Friday, rather than recognizing how this whole line of argument would be weaponized, the White House doubled down, again highlighting how it was upset about misinformation about vaccines on social media, and then when asked directly about “Facebook” Joe Biden said “they’re killing people.” This is, of course, wrong. Facebook is not killing people. Some idiots on Facebook are spreading misinformation and disinformation that is likely causing people to die, but we should be putting the blame where it needs to be put. On the people spreading the disinformation.
Either way, the fact that the government might flag to social media companies that certain content is disinformation does not, in any way, reach the level of coercion or demands that would make it a 1st Amendment violation. There was no indication that the companies were told to take it down. There’s no indication that anything happened other than the administration saying “Hey, this stuff is dangerous.” And, I mean, if you’re going to get mad at administrations demanding social media posts get taken down, it certainly looks like the Trump administration went way further than the Biden administration did in demanding such things (like that time with regards to posts advocating for the removal of confederate statues). I don’t remember any of the folks now screaming about the Biden administration complaining when Trump actually did demand posts be removed.
Of course, that still doesn’t make this necessarily the right approach by the White House — and frankly, it’s astounding that they walked right into this seemingly unaware of how it would all play out. Ken White wrote out the perfect way in which a smart White House would have dealt with this issue:
Here?s how the Biden Administration could handle the plague of deadly disinformation in a way that wouldn?t play into the Trumpist censorship narrative:
“The First Amendment and Section 230 let private companies like Twitter and Facebook choose how to moderate their sites. American free speech rights are exceptional and protect a very large amount of speech many of us would agree is dangerous or harmful. That broad protection helps insulate speech from political and ideological urges to censor. But the government has a leadership function as well as a governing one. Part of leadership is praising good behavior and condemning bad behavior, in hopes that people will do the right thing, without the coercion of law.
Facebook has a right to make money off of this alarming and deadly disinformation. But that doesn?t make it the right thing to do. Just as Americans have the right to say poisonous and ugly things to each other, that doesn?t make it right. When Facebook is exercising its right to profit off of deadly propaganda about COVID, it?s doing the wrong moral thing. It?s being a bad citizen. The First Amendment protects it from coercion, but not from criticism ? yours and ours.
We call on Facebook to reconsider its stance. We?ve identified common anti-scientific propaganda that puts lives at risk. Facebook can continue to profit off of it. But it can choose not to. We call on Facebook to do the right thing – for Americans and their lives.”
Would it really have been so hard to have done something like that?