From the conception of the Constitution and the Bill of Rights, freedom of speech has been a pillar of democracy in the United States. The rise of social media as a source of news information has brought to light the impact of misinformation and false reporting. Big tech companies and social media outlets have taken matters into their own hands, but it is unclear if their censorship of potential false claims is actually helping to protect the integrity of information consumption in America.
The role of big tech companies in the everyday lives of Americans has not gone unnoticed over the years, but the 2020 election cycle has caused these companies to take some heat from both citizens and the President Trump’s administration. Twitter first came under fire when the entire platform suppressed the New York Post story regarding Hunter Biden’s foreign business dealings in Ukraine. Twitter was accused of aligning with the Democratic party and their censorship of the story was seen as an effort to protect the Biden campaign from possible backlash the story may have caused. From this point on, there were multiple instances of censorship, including the entire Twitter account of White House Press Secretary Kayleigh McEnany. It was quite alarming to many Americans that a presidential cabinet member no longer had the ability to voice her opinions on such a large social media platform. Twitter also began flagging controversial tweets, especially those of President Trump. When it was unclear who was going to win the election, Twitter made it very clear to its users that there were many potentially false claims circulating the app.
While Republicans were most upset by these particular examples, roughly three-quarters of adults in the U.S. believe that political opinions are being censored on social media sites. This means that 75% of people believe that there is some impediment on the freedom of speech and ideas in the United States. There is confidence from both parties that speech is not as free as it should be. The line between big tech companies and the government is becoming blurred as time passes. In one of the most high-stakes elections in American history, people became less free.
The Threat to Democracy
Big tech companies may believe that they are contributing to news intake in a positive manner, but bias censorship is detrimental. It is unreasonable to believe that companies with their own agendas are able to make un-bias decisions about what information is reputable. The increase in censorship came at a time in American politics that was and still is hypersensitive to new information and sensationalized stories. The consumption of the censored information was likely to have an effect on the opinions of voters and it seems that social media outlets wanted to prevent this from occurring. It cannot be left up to big tech companies to decide what stories and information can and cannot be consumed.
Blocking potentially crucial information prohibited citizens from having access to important information surrounding presidential candidates and social media should not have this type of influence on American politics. Free elections depend on citizens having the opportunity to formulate their own opinions based on all information. When censorship occurs, people are forced to formulate opinions that are founded on tailored information. Americans must maintain the right to decide for themselves what is credible and what is not. The freedom of speech extends to internet outlets, even if it is the minority opinion.
On May 28, 2020, President Trump issued an Executive Order designed to prevent online censorship. This move by the administration was clearly ineffective after observing the events that took place during the November election. In order to maintain the standard of freedom and democracy in the United States, Americans must take responsibility for the information they engage with. It is more crucial than ever for people to consider multiple sources and to look beyond social media for information. It is dangerous to allow big companies or any other entity to dictate political discourse and Americans run the risk of becoming puppets of the powerful if actions are not taken. In the age of technology this will continue to be a pressing issue and it is up to the people to ensure that freedom of expression continues to have a place in the United States.