Are Facebook and Twitter responsible for the content of their users? Some people argue that both mega-companies are publishers, no different than a book company or a news agency. The CEOs of Facebook and Twitter argue they run tech companies, not newspapers.
Of course, Amazon’s Jeff Bezos runs both! Should Bezos apply the same content standards to Amazon that he does at The Washington Post? Should every non-fiction book on Amazon be held to the Post’s standard of journalistic integrity or be banned? Bezos would fire a Post reporter who lied in a story or who fudged the truth a bit. Should he also insist on dumping disreputable books from Amazon’s web site?
The only way to really answer this question intelligently is to set aside the product and look at the brand. The Washington Post is a newspaper. That is the product. That is what people purchase. But the brand of the Post is not the paper. Its brand is the words on the paper. Its brand is journalistic integrity.
Likewise, Amazon sells all sorts of products, books included. But its brand is a combination of broad selection, ease of purchase and efficient fulfillment. Does it matter to consumers that Amazon’s range of products is seemingly endless, including all sorts of things a consumer would not buy for whatever reason? No, it does not matter. Does an Amazon consumer of clothing care that the company also sells erotica? Probably not.
And yet, Amazon bans books from Holocaust deniers. It does not ban other books. In fact, Amazon markets books banned elsewhere. It just bans the ones denying the Holocaust. Only Holocaust deniers have a problem with that. Reasonable people do not give it a second thought. We get it.
So let us turn back to Facebook and Twitter and ask these same questions. Should these two companies ban participation by truly offensive people or subjects?
The current controversy is over Alex Jones – Donald Trump’s favorite conspiracy theorist. Despite some pretty loud complaints, Facebook and Twitter are choosing to not censor Jones. Yes, Jones is the same guy who said that the Sandy Hook school shooting was a fraud and that everyone was acting. Everyone else on Planet Earth is aware that 20 students and six teachers were killed. So, Jones is an idiot, a troublemaker or both. But should he be banned from social media?
If I had the power to ban every idiot from social media, social media would disappear overnight. Are some matters beyond the pale? Yes. Criminal activity is beyond the pale and no social media outlet should permit criminal activity. But a difference of opinion – even a difference wherein reality is dismissed? No. Even if I wanted to, I would not have the energy to sift through every word on social media and decide what makes the world a better place and what does not.
Of course, I ban all sorts of things on my personal social media, by conscious choice and by omission. I block people on both Facebook and Twitter. What I control, I take care of because I can and the scope of my interference affects nobody but me. I am dealing with my personal preferences, not a corporate brand affecting billions of people.
If you do not like Alex Jones, ignore him. If his influence on the president troubles you, fire the president. The problem is Jones, not the medium by which he spews his nonsense. If he existed during America’s founding, I am quite sure our forefathers would not throw out the First Amendment just to silence him. Neither should we.
I’m Paul Mero. Thanks for listening.