by Richard Landau
Recently, Twitter took down an interview conducted by popular internet host Joe Rogan with researcher and immunologist Dr. Robert Malone. Twitter took down the video because they disagree with Malone’s assertions about vaccinations and the COVID virus. Headquartered in the nation that champions free speech, this type of censorship has become increasingly common. Social media banishes whomever it pleases – even a sitting US President.
So, we must ask: is this legitimate censorship? Are there sufficient grounds for silencing some voices – or is it a random and arbitrary process? As the executive producer responsible for network TV standards and practices for 20 years, I know this area. When the major social media – Facebook, Twitter, and Google/YouTube – begin to stray into what speech is permitted and what is not, they make huge mistakes.
Yes, they are within their right to remove content that violates or contravenes their codes of ethics. They can remove comments that are proven factually misleading. However, Facebook removes people and comments on a whim, totally arbitrarily. Until recently, they did not have a code that was clearly defined and applied equitably. My broadcast organization only ever removed content when it contravened our code of ethics, typically when there was demonstrable harm – incitement to violence, hatred, or factually inaccurate information. On matters of opinion, reasonable people can disagree. There is enough expert information on the COVID virus to ask some serious questions about the efficacy of vaccinations – without being characterized as virulently anti-vaccination. I’ve also seen information that would encourage everyone to get vaccinated. Now, as a professor of critical thinking, I believe it’s necessary to allow people to have as much information as possible – and to encourage differing and sometimes clashing opinions.
But the US-based social media use their power of censorship not so much to reduce and remove hatred and information that is demonstrably inaccurate as they are using that power to advance their agendas or those of their financial benefactors. Contrary to their initial purposes, they are opposing the free flow of information. There is an inconsistency in the way they apply their standards. Didn’t these very same social media allow us to witness ISIS perpetrating hideous activities around the world? And to be totally consistent, why hasn’t Facebook shut down the Iranian leadership?
Here is how you function in a manner that protects freedom of expression. First, you craft a code of ethics that has not a hint of political objectives about it. Armed with a code of ethics, it’s easy to determine when content contravenes the code.
In TV, I was empowered to make decisions on my own. But – and this is important – I was backed by a committee of arm’s-length people who were experts about rights, about broadcasting, and who reflected the populace that we served. On occasion, when a particularly thorny issue arose, I would consult the chair of my advisory committee. Sometimes the chair convened the entire group to reach a decision. We did this for over 20 years without once having an issue that could not be resolved to the satisfaction of the TV hosts and producers, the viewers, and the broadcast regulatory body itself.
But the problem is the major social media have assumed that they are arbiters of free speech, hate speech, accurate speech – and matters of good taste. Until quite recently, they depended on anonymous inexperienced advisors, and apparently politically biased frontline staff (known as “fact checkers”), and their resulting arbitrary decisions have leaned in one political direction. This is groupthink, not genuine adjudication. Facebook /Meta has recently attempted to sanitize the process with a grossly overwritten code-like document. Many of the decisions being made by Twitter, Facebook, and Google/YouTube are tainted by their obvious in-house political leanings. They believe that their opinions are indeed facts. Worse still, they think that opposing points of view should not be platformed. That is the problem of the age we live in: everyone thinks their opinion, no matter how well-informed or ill-informed, is fact. Wisdom is hard to find.
Thus, these organizations and their ill-prepared leaders who stumbled into leadership of massively influential international social media networks believe they have the gift of wisdom and knowledge to make decisions on content. I see very little evidence of their qualification or experience in this. In fact, many of their decisions appear to be strictly arbitrary, without precedent, reason, or merit. The danger is that without a formalized process and non-partisan advisory/compliance committee, this handful of Americans ferreted away in an isolated area of California are imposing their values on everyone. They are placing all of humanity on the slippery slope where free speech and liberty are eroding. These are the new Ministries of Information.