Guest Editorial: The Messy, Free Speech Truth Behind Facebook, Twitter Bans

By Recker McDowell

No one is denying Facebook and Twitter have the legal rights to their recent bans and restrictions on controversial voices such as Paul Joseph Watson, Laura Loomer, Louis Farrakhan and James Woods.

Their social media platforms are their property. We know all about property rights here in Arizona.

The question is whether the social media giants along with Google-owned YouTube should be restricting radical or offensive speech.

They shouldn’t.

While instances vary, Twitter, YouTube, Facebook and its subsidiary Instagram are our public square. They are increasingly our media. And they should side with free speech. That includes speech that is uncomfortable, conspiratorial and yes sometimes offensive.

Think about it in local and regional terms.

Social media is where activists on the right and left can voice their concerns about immigration, about a border wall and Dreamers, about utility rates and campaign spending, about the dynamics between religious freedom and LGBTQ rights.

Sometimes those voices are contentious. Sometimes they are offensive. Sometimes they spout conspiracy theories.

There is an argument for letting the public square hear those voices, hear those arguments including whether they are radical or outside the norm.

There is always a slippery slope argument around speech. It might be easy to ban anti-immigrant groups such as The Proud Boys or the anti-LGBT Westboro Baptist Church.

But there are activists (and advertisers) out there who would quickly add Russell Pearce, Central Arizona Policy President Cathi Herrod, the Alliance Defending Freedom and many Trump supporters to that list. Some even want to restrict #MAGA hats. 

Where does it end?

Twitter, YouTube and Facebook must realize their success has been tied to the organic, unfiltered and unfettered content and speech whether its @RealDonaldTrump, immigration activists here in Arizona who fight his policies or someone posting about a police interaction or rude customer service.

The marketplace has served social media well. Why not let the marketplace and consumers determine whether a social media voice is worthy or not?

Social media has the advantage over traditional media and its gatekeepers and institutional links to advertisers and the political and corporate elite. Trust in media is low. News rooms have faced cutbacks and often chase web traffic and page views. Social media voices, including some that are uncomfortable, help fill that void whether its Trump, @AOC or a someone posting about life and times in Arizona.

Social media is organically driving public discourse. It’s not always uplifting and sometimes it is hateful, messy and nasty. But so is life.

More exposure to ideas is better than less.

More speech is better than less.

Mark Zuckerberg (Photo: Anthony Quintano / Wikimedia Commons)