Tech Firms Struggle To Police Content While Avoiding Bias
AppleMagazine|August 30, 2019

Take the post down. Put it back up. Stop policing speech. Start silencing extremists.

That’s just a sampling of the intense, often contradictory demands facing tech companies and their social media platforms as they try to oversee internet content without infringing on First Amendment rights. The pendulum has swung recently toward restricting hateful speech that could spawn violence, following a mass shooting in Texas in which the suspect had posted a racist screed online.

For Facebook, Google, Twitter, and others, it’s a no-win whipsaw, amplified by a drumbeat of accusations from President Donald Trump and his allies that their platforms are steeped in anti-conservative bias. With lawmakers and regulators in Washington poring over their business practices, the tech companies are anxious to avoid missteps — but finding criticism at every turn.

“There’s a thin line between disgusting and offensive speech, and political speech you just don’t like. People are blurring the lines,” says Jerry Ellig, a professor at George Washington University’s Regulatory Studies Center who was a policy official at the Federal Trade Commission.

Companies operating social media platforms have long enjoyed broad legal immunity for the posted content. Under the 1996 Communications Decency Act, they have a legal shield for both for the content they carry and for removing postings they deem offensive. Be it social media posts, uploaded videos, user reviews of restaurants or doctors, or classified ads — the shelter from lawsuits and prosecution has been a tent pole of social networking, and undoubtedly contributed to its growth.

But in the current climate of hostility toward Big Tech, that legal protection is getting a second look.

Legislation proposed last spring by Republican Sen. Josh Hawley of Missouri, an outspoken conservative critic, would require the companies to prove to regulators that they’re not using political bias to filter content. Failing to secure a bias-free audit from the government would mean a social media platform loses its immunity from legal action. It remains to be seen whether such a system could pass muster under the First Amendment.

Continue reading your story on the app

Continue reading your story in the magazine

MORE STORIES FROM APPLEMAGAZINEView All

Amazon Fires 2 Union Organizers Tied to First U.S. Labor Win

Amazon has fired two employees with ties to the grassroots union that led the first successful U.S. organizing effort in the retail giant’s history.

2 mins read
AppleMagazine
May 13, 2022

2022 IS THE YEAR OF ALL-INCLUSIVE TRAVEL, AND HERE'S WHY

The hotel name Zoetry (in Zoetry Montego Bay Jamaica) has an umlaut mark over the letter "e."

3 mins read
AppleMagazine
May 20, 2022

'TOP GUN' SEQUEL A WELCOME TRIP TO THE DANGER ZONE

Early on in "Top Gun: Maverick," Tom Cruise hops on his sleek motorcycle, wearing Aviator sunglasses and a leather jacket with patches, and speeds into a time machine. No, that's not right. It's actually us who take a trip back.

3 mins read
AppleMagazine
May 20, 2022

MacBook Air

Rumors: What to expect with Apple's 2022 redesign

5 mins read
AppleMagazine
May 20, 2022

4 WAYS TO PROTECT YOUR SMALL BUSINESS FROM CYBER ATTACKS

Since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, small businesses have quickly adopted remote working and transitioned to new technologies, such as contactless payments and online ordering.

3 mins read
AppleMagazine
May 20, 2022

A BEZOS-BIDEN SQUABBLE: CAN CORPORATE TAXES TAME INFLATION?

Jeff Bezos this weekend became the latest centi-billionaire to launch a political fight on Twitter by denouncing a tweet from President Joe Biden about corporate taxes as "disinformation” and “misdirection."

2 mins read
AppleMagazine
May 20, 2022

BIDEN ADMINISTRATION TO RELEASE $45B FOR NATIONWIDE INTERNET

The Biden administration is taking the first steps to release $45 billion to ensure that every U.S. resident has access to high-speed internet by roughly 2028, inviting governors and other leaders to start the application process.

2 mins read
AppleMagazine
May 20, 2022

NISSAN MULLING THIRD AUTO PLANT IN THE US TO MEET EV DEMAND

Nissan is considering adding a new auto plant in the U.S. to keep up with growing demand for electric vehicles, a top executive at the Japanese automaker said.

2 mins read
AppleMagazine
May 20, 2022

MENACED BY FLAMES, NUCLEAR LAB PEERS INTO FUTURE OF WILDFIRE

Public schools were closed and evacuation bags packed this week as a stubborn wildfire crept within a few miles of the city of Los Alamos and its companion U.S. national security lab - where assessing apocalyptic threats is a specialty and wildland fire is a beguiling equation.

4 mins read
AppleMagazine
May 20, 2022

WITH ROE IN DOUBT, SOME FEAR TECH SURVEILLANCE OF PREGNANCY

When Chandler Jones realized she was pregnant during her junior year of college, she turned to a trusted source for information and advice.

3 mins read
AppleMagazine
May 20, 2022