Internet Environment Censorship: Civic Right Violation Behind Tech Companies
The First Amendment was born in 20th century and had a significant influence on protecting free speech and civic right. As the technology is rapidly developed in 21st century, the First Amendment seems obsolete in the face of information explosion. Tech companies make benefits by controlling speech, market, and even political propaganda. Facebook used its social network to sway the outcome of the 2016 election. Tech companies sell users’ data and disregard personal privacy. Currently there is no feasible solution for this unexpected issue. This article will discuss the infringement on the First Amendment by tech companies, the relationship between civic responsibility of society and censorship of internet environment, and the possible future of online environment. The article will analyze Facebook’s fake news problem and Amazon Echo’s privacy issues.
There is an outburst of internet privacy news in the information age. The benefits behind these illegal behaviors are tremendous. The impact of current technology for the future is despised by tech companies. How to censor tech companies is a conundrum. The censorship for tech companies is from institutions, civilians, and laws.
In 2016, several journalists criticized Facebook for utilizing misleading news, stories, and propaganda in the President election. On April 27, 2017, Facebook confirmed election interference. It turns out that Facebook uses bots to spread misleading post for propaganda. Philip N. Howard says in Junk News and Bots During the U.S. Election: What Were Michigan
Voters Sharing over Twitter? that Facebook has between 67.65 million and 137.76 million fake users. One can hardly estimate the impact of such big number of bots.
The basis of this problem is the lack of specific laws to restrict Facebook’s power. Tim Wu writes in Is the First Amendment Obsolete? that “The mobilization of online vitriol or the dissemination of fake news by private parties or foreign states, even if in coordination with the U.S. government, has been considered a matter of journalistic ethics or foreign policy, not constitutional law.” Fake news is considered as ethical problem instead of violation of laws even it is related to government. It is obvious that ethical issue is only punished by society, and which can hardly solve the issue. There should be institutions to censor Facebook. People should take civic responsibility to ensure the censorship. Moreover, the First Amendment needs improvement to cover online infringement and protect civic right.
There are many companies and institutions working on the censorship of online environment worldwide. However, compared with billions of posts and pictures on the internet, a great quantity of censors is an urgent need. On June 3, 2019, two years after Facebook’s fake news issue, the FTC (Federal Trade Commission) started the investigation into Facebook. On July 24, 2019, the FTC announced Facebook had agreed to pay a record $5 billion penalty. Salvador Rodriguez states in How Facebook stumbled to the edge of a government breakup that “The fine was the largest ever imposed on a company for violating consumer privacy. In addition to the fine, Facebook agreed to adopt a new privacy program that would require Zuckerberg and compliance officers to submit quarterly certifications to the FTC assuring the company is in compliance.” In this case, it only takes the FTC less than two months to finish the investigation
and give penalty. The investigation itself is not significant, but how to prevent violation on time. The most efficient way is to increase the number of censors to achieve quick response.
As mentioned above, when an “ethical issue” takes place, public opinion is the most powerful weapon for protest. Facebook’s fake news problem was published by a number of journalists following the election. In the article Donald Trump Won Because of Facebook, Max Read writes: “The most obvious way in which Facebook enabled a Trump victory has been its inability (or refusal) to address the problem of hoax or fake news.” Writers like Max point out the problem and let the public to amplify their voice. It is journalism which starts to fight with tech companies.
However, Masha Gessen argues in his article Mark Zuckerberg Doesn’t Know What the First Amendment Is For that “Yet Americans are content to leave this essential component of democracy to profit-driven corporations with next to no regulatory oversight… We are so afraid of censorship—or, perhaps more accurately, we have such lazy ways of thinking about accountability—that we would rather let newspapers die and media corporations form monopolies than consider government regulation and public funding.” People are “content to” have these issues exposed but too lazy to exercise and ensure the censorship. The power of journalism is not complete without its audience. “Facebook is not an anomaly in the American media system—it is precisely the result of rampant profit-seeking, lazy thinking, and a lack of civic responsibility.” Civilians may not suppress capitalism, but at least are able to take civic responsibility.
The First Amendment protect right of speech freedom. In the information age, it can hardly play a role on the Internet. In this case, government should make improvement to the First Amendment. Tim Wu thinks in the article Is the First Amendment Obsolete?: “The project of realizing a healthier speech environment may depend more on what the First Amendment permits, rather than what it prevents or requires.” He then gives several possible ways to set up new laws, for example, “New laws or regulations requiring that major speech platforms behave as public trustees, with general duties to police fake users, remove propaganda robots, and promote a robust speech environment surrounding matters of public concern.” The regulations should aim at the existing problem and prevent from the future.
Lee Rainie and other authors predicts in The Future of Free Speech, Trolls, Anonymity and Fake News Online that “Some solutions could further change the nature of the internet because surveillance will rise; the state may regulate debate; and these changes will polarize people and limit access to information and free speech.” Technology has double sides, and the future depends on how we utilize it.
In 2017, much news about Amazon Echo’s privacy issues jumped out in public. Amazon collected customers’ voice recordings, causing massive privacy infringement.
In general, the future of the online environment should escape from the absolute control of tech companies.
Shahbaz, Adrian, and Allie Funk. “The Crisis of Social Media.” Freedom House, 2019, freedomhouse.org/report/freedom-net/2019/crisis-social-media.
Adrian Shahbaz and Allie Funk claim that internet freedom is declined. Various of statistical evidence are utilized such as data map, which helps authors to appeal countries and companies to make efforts to manipulate online environment. The article takes people who use internet and care about their online freedom as audience.
Douek, Evelyn. “New U.N. Report on Online Hate Speech.” Lawfare, 31 Oct. 2019, www.lawfareblog.com/new-un-report-online-hate-speech.
Evelyn Douek presents a report from David Kaye, the United Nations special rapporteur on the promotion and protection of the freedom of opinion and expression, about the regulation of online speech. She applies citation from Kaye’s report, pointing out the cause of hate speech, and methods to protect online free speech. The audience are people who pay attention to online speech freedom.
Lohr, Steve. “How Should Big Tech Be Reined In? Here Are 4 Prominent Ideas.” The New York Times, The New York Times, 20 Aug. 2019, www.nytimes.com/2019/08/20/technology/big-tech-reined-in.html.
Steve Lohr states that some powerful technology companies are hard to be under scrutiny. He lists four dominant prescriptions for this issue with citation and examples from big
technology companies. The essay is for audience who attach importance to power of big technology companies.
Laub, Zachary. “Hate Speech on Social Media: Global Comparisons.” Council on Foreign Relations, Council on Foreign Relations, 7 June 2019, www.cfr.org/backgrounder/hate-speech-social-media-global-comparisons.
Zachary Laub contends that the online hate speech against minorities is rising. The law can defuse discrimination but may also suppress minorities. He uses statistical evidence and examples from different countries to illustrate the way to regulate online hate speech by countries and platform. The article is for audience who care about regulation of online hate speech.
Gessen, Masha. “Mark Zuckerberg Doesn’t Know What the First Amendment Is For.” The New Yorker, The New Yorker, 22 Oct. 2019, www.newyorker.com/news/our-columnists/mark-zuckerberg-doesnt-know-what-the-first-amendment-is-for.
Masha Gessen argues that some new media try to avoid responsibilities of human rights. He uses evidence from current news and his teaching scene to declare that people should take responsibility to appeal companies and government to examine lack of civic responsibility. The audience are interested in high technique and care about civic responsibility.
Jr., David L. Hudson. “Free Speech or Censorship? Social Media Litigation Is a Hot Legal Battleground.” ABA Journal, 1 Apr. 2019, www.abajournal.com/magazine/article/social-clashes-digital-free-speech.
David asserts that the censorship of online speech and rise of hate speech online are serious issue nowadays. He utilizes Kennedy’s opinions, citation, and examples of current online speech concern, presents “the importance of the cyber age on free expression”. The article is for people who are interested in censorship of online speech and its future development.
Rainie, Lee, et al. “The Future of Free Speech, Trolls, Anonymity and Fake News Online.” Pew Research Center: Internet, Science & Tech, Pew Research Center, 29 Mar. 2017, www.pewresearch.org/internet/2017/03/29/the-future-of-free-speech-trolls-anonymity-and-fake-news-online/.
Lee Rainie and other authors states the future of online speech environment into four themes. They quote various of ideas from many authorities to support each possible theme. A wide prediction of the future of free speech is revealed in front of audience. Audience are interested in the environment of online free speech in the future.
Wakabayashi, Daisuke. “Legal Shield for Social Media Is Targeted by Trump.” The New York Times, The New York Times, 28 May 2020, www.nytimes.com/2020/05/28/business/section-230-internet-speech.html.
Daisuke Wakabayashi talks on The New York Times about the history of section 230 and its effects in the future. He uses quotations from teleplays and politicians to illustrate the consequence of the curtailment for Section 230. People who care about the powers of social media companies will be attracted by this article.
Ghosh, Dipayan, and Ben Scott. “Digital Deceit: The Technologies Behind Precision Propaganda on the Internet.” New America, 23 Jan. 2018, www.newamerica.org/public-interest-technology/policy-papers/digitaldeceit/.
Ghosh and Scott declare on New America that the technology to “aggregate user attention and sell advertising” is the central problem of corrupting American culture. They utilize much statistical evidence and examples from current business advertisement, through comparison and deep analysis, investigate different technologies of marketing in order to “deepen our understanding of precision propaganda. People who would like to learn current digital advertising will read the article as reference.
Ghosh, Dipayan, and Ben Scott. “Digital Deceit II: A Policy Agenda to Fight Disinformation on the Internet.” Shorenstein Center, 2 Oct. 2018, shorensteincenter.org/digital-deceit-ii-policy-agenda-fight-disinformation-internet/.
Ghosh and Scott claim on Shorenstein Center that people must intervene in technology companies to break their control of market. They use examples from social media advertisement and market, statistical evidence, developing precise and various principles to “address the digital threat to democracy from “transparency”, “privacy”, and “competition” three aspects.
Wu, Tim. “Is the First Amendment Obsolete?” Knight First Amendment Institute, 1 Sept. 2017, knightcolumbia.org/content/tim-wu-first-amendment-obsolete.
Howard, Philip N., et al. “Junk News and Bots during the U.S. Election: What Were Michigan Voters Sharing Over Twitter?” The Computational Propaganda Project, 29 July 2018, comprop.oii.ox.ac.uk/research/working-papers/junk-news-and-bots-during-the-u-s-election-what-were-michigan-voters-sharing-over-twitter/.
Rodriguez, Salvador. “How Facebook Stumbled to the Edge of a Government Breakup.” CNBC, CNBC, 9 Nov. 2019, www.cnbc.com/2019/11/09/facebooks-antitrust-investigations-a-timeline-of-events.html.
Read, Max. “Donald Trump Won Because of Facebook.” Intelligencer, Intelligencer, 9 Nov. 2016, nymag.com/intelligencer/2016/11/donald-trump-won-because-of-facebook.html.
Lynskey, Dorian. “’Alexa, Are You Invading My Privacy?’ – the Dark Side of Our Voice Assistants.” The Guardian, Guardian News and Media, 9 Oct. 2019, www.theguardian.com/technology/2019/oct/09/alexa-are-you-invading-my-privacy-the-dark-side-of-our-voice-assistants.
Benjamin Postdoctoral Researcher, Garfield. “Amazon Echo’s Privacy Issues Go Way beyond Voice Recordings.” The Conversation, 21 Jan. 2020, theconversation.com/amazon-echos-privacy-issues-go-way-beyond-voice-recordings-130016.