Overlooking moments like President Donald Trump’s “We are watching Google very closely!” tweet on Tuesday, U.S. lawmakers mostly mindful of free speech rights tend to be reluctant to shut down internet content.
But free of free-speech requirements, social media giants like Facebook and Twitter are well within their rights as private companies to police hateful or offensive content. While this policing has seemed limited or arbitrary and partisan to some, their good intentions are hard to doubt.
Now, thankfully, smaller tech firms are realizing that they, too, can help curb online hate.
On Monday, Voxility, a British internet company, decided to stop providing services used by the 8chan website, knocking it offline. Anonymous, venomous postings on 8chan and other websites apparently inspired the Saturday massacre in El Paso and are more firmly linked to earlier mass murders at two New Zealand mosques and a fatal shooting at the Chabad of Poway synagogue.
8chan founder-turned-critic Fredrick Brennan told The Washington Post the site presented “a receptive audience for domestic terrorists.” Pulling the plug was overdue.
Two facts are now undeniable: The internet has long provided dark places for what are essentially hate support groups, and firms providing services to websites inciting violence against specific groups can choose not to do so. The Electronic Frontier Foundation – an important, constructive force for online rights – contends that “just because companies can act as judge and jury doesn’t mean they should.”
Barack Obama and Trump support reducing the influence of websites that get people killed. We all should. A line must be drawn somewhere.
THE SAN DIEGO UNION-TRIBUNE (TNS)