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Technology and Democracy after the “Great Deplatforming”

Doyle, Barlow & Mazard PLLC

Georgetown Law tech law and policy experts converged together on Friday, January 29, 2021, to discuss wide-ranged topics relating to technology, speech, and regulations in a democratic society. David Vladeck, Erin Carroll, Hillary Brill, and Anupam Chander were the representative speakers on this discussion streamed live over Facebook.

The discussion began with revisiting the tragic siege of the United States capitol that took place on January 6, 2021. Before the siege, on many different platforms (Twitter, Facebook, etc.) President Donald Trump continued to post disputes about the presidential election, specifically mentioning voter fraud. With there being no evidence to verify these disputes, Trump’s campaign for president for a second term was over. Yet it took a violent storming of our nation’s capital to make the world realize that the words on social media and the internet do, in fact, have an effect and insight riots and violence. Any different social media platforms suspended or banned Donald Trump’s account from their sites including Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram. Thus began the great deplatforming.

Why this deplatforming is legal for big tech companies like Google and Apple is because these companies are not in affiliation with the government. This means that the First Amendment is not valid if not stated in their terms of service. If the said company feels that their terms of services have been broken by an individual or feels that said individual is a threat to others, companies have the right to deplatform them. When first signing up on the platforms, every user must agree to the companies terms of services, many just seem to not read them beforehand.

Using Twitter as an example, after being questioned about if it was legal to permanently suspend Donald Trump’s account, Twitter explains their terms of services and the reasoning behind these actions. After analyzing the tweets that Donald Trump was posting and how others were receiving them, they came to the conclusion that they would permanently suspend his account due to the risk of further violence that could be invoked.

With the first Amendment, it becomes very difficult to regulate the dissemination of information in the United States, especially since the government has not created regulations for tech. The only privacy regulator in the United States is the Federal Trade Commission, yet it does not have any real privacy authority. It focuses mainly on deception and unfair business practices.

Section 230 was created to allow internet platforms to grow and to protect platforms from lawsuits if a user posts something illegal with exceptions for copyright violations, etc. This section has also allowed for disinformation campaigns to be spread around the internet and push society apart. With the increased spread of disinformation, creating a privacy statute, revisions of antitrust laws, and reconsidering section 230 need to be on the table to help our society move forward in a positive light.

The question of what the future of technology and democracy will be like since the great deplatforming is still a mystery. Since the capital siege as well as President Joe Biden taking office, Congress has brought forward the idea of reevaluating section 230 to help avoid the further spread of disinformation.

Link to Facebook Live:

Lizzy Bensend

Doyle Barlow & Mazard PLLC

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