You may have noticed a wave of channels removed recently by Google for violating content policies, and the screams from their owners about foul play–even outright censorship.  There are very important constitutional concerns about arbitrary removal of content. And viewed at its face value, it seems like targeted censorship.

And then today, there is the Facebook virtual protest over Mark Zuckerberg’s decision not to label or remove President Trump’s tweets as violence inciting.  And at a time when the President is preparing to release an executive order to regulate social media activity.

But what’s really going on… and all of a sudden?

There are some proposed changes in bills being worked through Congress, which are a big catalyst for this. The primary one is a change to the protections which internet media distributors have had for a number of years now. This includes social platforms, especially. Essentially, the current law provides legal protection to the distributor of material, as long as it was not the provider.  That means that if a social media account is used to post an article, commentary, instructions, etc… the company providing the social media account can not be held liable for that content because it is only a posting location (repository, if you will).  Only the content provider (or source of authorship) is liable.  In the real world, it is similar to suing a library for the choice of books it has in its selection.  The law would protect the library, but not the publisher/author who are responsible for the content.

So Alex Jones (of Infowars) and others have always been liable for their controversial content.  There is no change there.  But the protections for the social media companies from liability are now at risk to be watered down or virtually eliminated.  The threat from this change in the law is forcing social media platforms off of their neutral stance, and causing them to remove content from owners which put them at risk of being sued.  And it is very wise for a business to take these precautions, even when it is not law and only looks like the legislation will pass.  There’s targeted censorship here, but for motives other than what people attribute it to.

And as far as Trump’s tweets are concerned, I actually empathize with Mark Zuckerberg… something I don’t do often.  He (certainly with support from a knowledgeable staff) made the decision to not label them and not to censor them. Not an easy call with all the peer pressure behind that. By contrast, Twitter has chosen to be quite aggressive with banning content, removing posts and labeling content. But is that the right path? Twitter has (rightfully) drawn heavy criticism for doing that.

Twitter and Facebook have taken a passive stance as well on posts, labeling them as containing certain types of dangerous content.  I am neutral on this, except when it comes to political figures.  I am fine with a song being labeled as having potentially dangerous lyrics, just as I am fine with a health warning on food items and especially on dangerous items like tobacco.  It is not stopping me, but it is communicating a danger.

But applying these same warning idioms to political figures and their speech crosses the line between objective and subjective.  And subjective includes opinions, something which must be especially protected in the political arena.  It is the core of free speech protection.

Finally, there is also a political side of this which may not be immediately apparent. Trump’s tweets are provocative, and have been even since he was campaigning.  Obama tweeted in a more traditional way, as a press release. One of the things which I chuckle at (in a macabre way, I admit) is how Trump gets people mad who are dedicated trolls or just loud advocates on social media, because he is just as good on social media with stirring things up as they are.  And they are clearly aggravated by it.  For social media participants, it’s a rough way to get a wake up call on the real effects of receivers when just spouting out your thoughts.  But that is how it should be seen: a wake up call.

Part of a consideration in Facebook’s decision also has to be a concern about creating a dangerous Catch-22 situation.  On one hand, the legal protection of them as a distributor is at risk.  But if the President signs an executive order prohibiting alteration, removal or appending to original material, then the threat of lawsuits from that proposed law change gets far worse.  Social media would be sued by people who they are taking offline, as well as others for not taking people offline.  A really, really bad situation for social media companies.

The whole thing just highlights the real problem with social media.  It doesn’t really show who we are, it just amplifies what we want to see.

A pastor this past year gave a message celebrating mothers on Mother’s Day, which demonstrates what I mean.  In his message, he mentioned the list of traditional things a mother does for the family… and reminded everyone not to forget the newest important role mom’s play in the family: Family Social Media Marketer.