If you’re a conservative, the Internet doesn’t want to hear what you have to say. Online free speech has been a prominent discussion this election season with daily talks about social media networks, search engine algorithms, and artificial intelligence that may be influencing elections and public opinion.
The 2016 Presidential campaign leveraged the power of social media to target voters that were left behind by other candidates. The same tools, strategies, and access were available to all candidates. Social media giants like Facebook offer expert staff that carries the same political affiliation as the candidate to provide training and expertise in leveraging their advertising platforms – it’s no secret that big tech wants political advertising dollars.
During the election, Brad Parscale now President Trump’s campaign manager was tasked to leverage every available resource to the campaign online and did so expertly with Facebook staff working inside of the campaign. In his interview with 60-minutes, Brad explains how Facebook’s team worked with the campaign and how the same services were offered to but declined by Hillary Clinton’s team.
Big tech has become the focus of debate and how much power it should be allowed to have under concerns of its ability to influence elections and limit free speech. As a software developer and business owner that relies heavily on cloud technologies, I have an intimate understanding of how algorithms, machine learning, and big data operate which are used as the first line of ‘defense’ in monitoring social media content. It’s understandable why big tech needs to use these automated technologies considering some of the data points:
- 583 million fake Facebook accounts in the first three months of 2018
- 68% of Americans use Facebook
- 2.41 billion monthly active users as of June 2019
- 1.59 billion people on average log onto Facebook daily
Every 60 seconds on Facebook:
- 510,000 comments are posted
- 293,000 statuses are updated
- and 136,000 photos are uploaded
Limiting free speech or policing with political biased when barring voices online is not only an infringement of one’s freedom of expression it presents an economic impact for bloggers, smaller media outlets, journalists and the like.
Now take a look at a shortlist of well-known voices on the Internet which have become victims of social media bias:
- Tommy Robinson, the far-right founder of the English Defense League, banned from Facebook and Instagram.
- Alex Jones American radio and Infowars host banned from Facebook, YouTube, and Twitter.
- Milo Yiannopoulos (Milo Andreas Wagner) former editor of Breitbart News banned by Facebook, Twitter and deleted from YouTube.
- Azealia Banks, an American rapper, singer, songwriter, and actress, had her twitter account deactivated and banned from Facebook and iHeartRadio.
- Louis Farrakhan, an American minister, was banned from Facebook, YouTube, and Instagram.
- US Senator Mitch McConnell’s Twitter account was temporarily suspended.
- Next News Networks, a conservative YouTube channel, reports that the platform is continuously suppressing their search results and favors those skewed toward content favorable to liberal outlets.
The list goes on to include people like you that get thrown into ‘Facebook Jail’ preventing commenting, sharing, and posting on the networks if only temporarily.
We need an Internet Bill of Rights.
Protecting free speech online is a policy every American can stand behind. It is critical for policies focused on the Internet to mirror the First Amendment and protect free speech for all.
A report on an external audit of Facebook’s civil rights progress showed auditors investigated reports of where Facebook incorrectly flagged or deleted the content as “hate speech.” Auditors noted that genuine trade-offs exist between the consistency of decision-making and accounting of policies around topics such as hate speech.
As a starting point of discussion, The Internet Bill of Rights should include:
A public and transparent understanding of how social media networks and internet services restrict, remove, or suspend speech online.
Policies must present clear definitions of generic terms used for speech restrictions and transparently document when enforced. Platforms must provide recourse for content authors and users to request re-review against blocked, removed content, banned or suspended accounts.
Service providers must demonstrate, monitor, report on and ensure equal and non-bias applications of policies and the law.
Reinstate Net Neutrality
Net Neutrality means individual freedom, not corporate control, on the Internet and levels the playing field for small businesses seeking to compete against established competition.
There’s a significant risk when large platforms solely rely on artificial intelligence and algorithms to filter speech online. Free speech doesn’t only impact your rights; it also has a financial impact on bloggers, small media outlets, small business, and the like.
I find it dangerous that there is not a single representative in Congress that possess a professional understanding of how Internet technologies and social media works. When elected to Congress, I will be the first member that understands how these technologies work and how to find a balance between private company policies and civil liberties.
Brett Kokinadis was the founder of New Mexico Democrats for Democracy and is the First Openly Gay Tech Republican for Trump running in New Mexico Congressional District 1 against Democratic Rep. Deb Haaland.