Franklin Graham Banned from Facebook for Two Year Old Posts

Social Media Companies are Like Public Utilities

I saw an article in the Miami Herald that Franklin Graham was banned from Facebook for using “Dehumanizing” language in a post from 2016 that criticized Bruce Springsteen for cancelling a concert in North Carolina in response of House Bill 2. Facebook did apologize and reinstate Graham, but the incident shows the direction the wind is blowing concerning free speech within Social Media. I doubt few people would debate that there is an intent within social media to control the conversation because they have been open about suppressing “fake” news and “Hate Speech” for some time. The combination of this unwillingness to remain a neutral forum and the near monopoly some of these organizations have is a serious threat to free speech that should concern all of us.

Social media companies are near monopolies. Google processed 63% of all internet searches. Facebook has 2.2 Billion users worldwide with over 67% of Adult Americans active on the site according to a 2017 Pew Research Study. In addition, 45% of American adults get at least part of their news off the site and half of those say that Facebook is the only site they look to for news. These organizations have been so dominant that they have become necessary for certain types of communication and access to data.

When an organization’s operations are necessary for the operation of society (like electricity, water and communications) the government regulates these organizations to insure that rights are protected. The internet and social media are supposed to be public forums for information and communication not unlike radio or television, which are regulated.

The constitution protects the freedom of speech such that our government cannot make laws that suppress that right, though private organizations have the freedom themselves to limit speech. It makes no sense to let any organization that has a near monopoly over certain types of communication and information to be able to suppress free speech without regulation. You can’t suppress public discourse and still have a free society.

Who Decides on Truth?

Most of the “Community Standards”  within social media platforms are not neutral but impose their own norms of what is right or wrong and what is true and false. What is lost within their standards is the right of dissent. If someone disagrees with their moral positions as Franklin Graham did, the dissenters are subject to censure with no protection of their rights or arbiter to appeal to. This might be acceptable for a organization that accounts for a small part of their industry, but when they have a dominate position, it is a lot of power.

The argument is broader than just that social media organizations should not be allowed to be biased against conservative or religious organizations. This concern is independent of worldview because one never knows when your positions may fall out of favor. It is understandable to want to block arguments that you don’t like, but you should only promote the ability to do so with and understanding on how it could be used against you. Those on the political left are only promoting these actions because it supports their causes and suits their purposes for now. This is short-sighted because as recent as 20 years ago it could have easily been used against them. I was perfectly happy to let the NSA have broad powers to spy on terrorists, but when I realized that those powers were being used in the next administration to spy on conservative groups, I saw the error in this thinking.

What about Fake News and Hate Speech?

Someone may say “But what about Fake news or hate speech? Shouldn’t those be universally banned?”. I think this is a mistake on a public forum. Fake news is not the problem people think it is. Propaganda that is less than truthful or misleading has been around for a long time, but it is competitive. Organizations that are free to print “Fake” news can do so against each other. If they are public, then we can see their content and weight in on it. Organizations that consistently print bogus stories get ignored. When stories are suppressed or blocked by some algorithm then we do not see the prioritization (of manipulation) of the data. I don’t think anyone would think it is progress to be told what you can see or not see. It is far better to get to see everything people are saying and be able to choose what do believe and what to dismiss.

Besides, too often this label has been weaponized as a tool to dismiss something we do not like. Who gets to decide what the definition of fake and hate is? I don’t think anyone wants to concede those definitions to large multi-national corporations.

As far as “Hate Speech”, it is acceptable to take action against speech directed at the person of private individuals, but increasingly, this is used against speech that is not directed in this way. Generalizations about people groups or to advocate for some social policy that disadvantages a certain group is not hate speech and therefore should not be suppressed.

Social Media Should be Regulated

The major social media organizations are an important medium for the spread of the Gospel, apologetics and the Christian worldview. Unfortunately, Christians have found themselves out of favor with most of them, especially because of the unpopularity of traditional doctrines over against identity politics. Franklin Graham should be applauded for his willingness to speak out against this tyranny, but it is unlikely that this problem will be solved without government regulation. Other media outlets are already regulated and it is time for Social media to be as well. Therefore, this should be a goal sought by those in the Christian community.