Social-Media Companies Threaten Democracy


Today the gatekeepers of meaningful freedom of speech are the social media companies. But there’s just been scandal after scandal of how these companies have abused their powers to really not serve “We, the people”, but rather to serve their own corporate interests in ways that stifle our speech, and really threaten democracy. What’s really noteworthy is that the First Amendment imposes absolutely no limit on private sector entities. So Twitter, and Facebook, and Google, and all of the social media have complete freedom to pick and choose who gets to speak and what they can say, and who does not get to speak and what may not be said. They are completely unconstrained by the First Amendment and they have just unfettered censorship power. There have been many complaints by members of racial minorities who have been subject to hate speech, that they will post to their friends and say “listen to this horrible racist message” and then that gets taken down as hate speech. There’s no ability to distinguish the context. Is it a message that is endorsing the hateful idea, or is it criticizing the hateful idea? These nuances are just lost. Censorship is an extremely blunt tool, and if we want to prevent them from exercising that vast power in ways that discriminate against certain speakers or certain ideas, we have to use other laws and other tools to constrain that power. Many experts are arguing that social media companies should function the way the phone companies do, as what’s called a common carrier, where they would be required to carry every message of anybody, unless the message is illegal, unless it could be punished consistent with the First Amendment. In the United States these discussions are at the exploration phase, but already the response of the social media companies have been to engage in more self-regulation to try to ward off actual regulation. Anybody who cares about freedom of speech has to care about what the powerful social media companies are doing, because that is where the action is today. If you don’t have free speech online, on social media, you don’t have free speech at all in any meaningful sense.

98 Comments

  1. 𝕍𝕆𝕃𝔸𝕀ℝ𝔼 said:

    Nice animation

    August 27, 2019
    Reply
  2. emmett stone said:

    These are no longer platforms but publishers; they just use our free materials

    August 27, 2019
    Reply
  3. Anastasia Rose said:

    Yeahhh we know, it's all about personal agenda

    August 27, 2019
    Reply
  4. emmett stone said:

    These are no longer platforms but publishers; they just use our free material

    August 27, 2019
    Reply
  5. Zeitgeist X said:

    American ignorance all over this video. Typical cliche American centric view points on free speech. Go live in other societies and see how no one shares this view point and even in Europe, their notions of free speech is different. Only Americans can be shocked that holocaust denial is a crime in Germany and no a free speech issue

    August 27, 2019
    Reply
  6. Alicia Bardotte said:

    so youre trying to tell me this is not the voice of meryl streep?

    August 27, 2019
    Reply
  7. J Mak said:

    I'm surprised and happy the Atlantic made a video like this.

    August 27, 2019
    Reply
  8. Karttikeya Bihani said:

    Wish such topics are discussed in a more flushed out manner and in longer videos. I know a lot of work goes into every minute of such a video with the animation but that's what makes great content!

    August 27, 2019
    Reply
  9. Ninefox said:

    Capitalism threatens democracy

    August 27, 2019
    Reply
  10. Evan Fields said:

    Unfortunately laws that govern technology are slow to catch up to modernity. When I look at our current polictal climate I don't feel comfortable that our law makers are capable of implementing nuanced policies that are fair and a-political. It's going to get worse before it get's even worse.

    August 27, 2019
    Reply
  11. Kmh Mph said:

    You just realised?

    August 27, 2019
    Reply
  12. John said:

    This narrator is annoying.

    August 27, 2019
    Reply
  13. Rashad said:

    This person is showing their age when they describe social media as something where free speech laws should apply. Social media isn't a public utility, nor is it a public space, no matter how many people are or aren't using it.

    August 27, 2019
    Reply
  14. Benedict H said:

    Civil duties trump certain freedoms.

    August 27, 2019
    Reply
  15. Artur Renato B.B said:

    Damn, incredible animation.

    August 27, 2019
    Reply
  16. spijkerpoes said:

    What a ffn nightmare

    August 27, 2019
    Reply
  17. Raymond James said:

    For writing "Trump is rich white trash" fb censored the posting and wouldn't allow me to post/answer for two weeks. How can that be considered "hate speech?" Could this have something to do with my repeated Bernie Sanders and extinction Rebellion shares?

    August 27, 2019
    Reply
  18. Umberto Fournier said:

    Insane

    August 27, 2019
    Reply
  19. John Deir said:

    China has a unique system where ratings are generated per individuals and the government controls all this and can deprive a individual certain right according to the government judgement. I'm not in favor of this but what if a rating system is developed per online platforms/individuals as to accuracy, truth? Could something of this bases be developed that allows free speech but has a rating per posts? Something to consider maybe?

    August 27, 2019
    Reply
  20. IglooDweller said:

    It's our fault for giving them the monopoly on our speech.

    August 27, 2019
    Reply
  21. Sy Sharp said:

    BREXIT was a democratic vote, the hateful EU and British government seem to be against the native people.
    The world is silent

    August 27, 2019
    Reply
  22. duo315 said:

    "The gatekeepers of meaningful freedom of speech" is 4chan. In 100 years people will realize how important the site is, not because of its vulgar content but because anonymity and free speech are very hard to find on other websites

    August 27, 2019
    Reply
  23. Alex Franco said:

    Yelling Freedom of speech is becoming a dog whistle for reactionaries who want corporate domination of people as long as it supports their ugly agendas. And then they get pissed when they get booted off for clear policy violation.

    August 27, 2019
    Reply
  24. Alex Franco said:

    Social media is not a public utility

    August 27, 2019
    Reply
  25. Spurs_ said:

    orange man bad

    August 27, 2019
    Reply
  26. Eric Alvaro said:

    Actually, I'm positively surprised by this video – it was not what I was hoping for. By what I understood, the author is advocating for something like "let the justice decide what messages should or shouldn't be on these huge giant platforms: if it's illegal, take it down, if not, leave it there". And if that's the case I agree with her 100%.

    These huge platforms – we are not talking about some niche little social network, we are talking about pretty much the way most people in the west communicate nowadays – and all this control about what gets posted or not, what can be said or not, falls under this body of nonelected individuals without any public accountability, unlike a judge or a congressman.

    Basically what can be said on the internet nowadays, is decided by a very small group of people in California.

    August 27, 2019
    Reply
  27. Q Tuttle said:

    Not just some companies, but those behind all of the secrets, the Bilderbergs group. They are behind our corrupt deep state, as well as our conditioning to accept it. Nearly all conspiracies are true that is why they cencore them. Conservatives aren't as controllable as liberals so they are cencored also.

    August 27, 2019
    Reply
  28. _¿Eres tonto?_ said:

    If you choose to be interested in preventing this, vote for Andrew yang.

    August 27, 2019
    Reply
  29. Eric Alvaro said:

    Also, to all those people renting about "oh, facebook is a private property, they can do whatever the hell they want..". So it's okay with you if a private company decides to not serve minorities? It's the same principle. Unless your answer is also "yes", you're being contradictory, you're basically saying "companies can do whatever the hell they want…. when I agree with what they are doing".

    Now, whether we're talking about some company denying service to a given group of people or not allowing a given set of opinions on their platform, I think in both cases, smaller companies should be able to do that, should have much more leeway. If you have a little cake shop and you don't want to serve black people or Mexicans, or even white people, you should have this right because it's a small company, you denying service to that person won't have thaat much of an impact on his life, they can just go to the next store on the other side of the street. The same goes if you have some small niche social platform, you decide who posts there or not.

    But, as soon as your company starts to get bigger and start becoming these huge corporations, I think you start to lose this right of denying service to people. The same way I don't think Wallmart shouldn't have the right to deny service to gay people, I don't think Facebook should be allowed to deny services to conservatives, or anyone if that matter.

    August 27, 2019
    Reply
  30. Masha Mitchell said:

    Well this was dramatic. The first amendment is about the government not making laws to limit speech. Private companies can decide for themselves what they want on their platform. Your ability to be an a-hole still exists, just can't do it on Twitter.

    August 27, 2019
    Reply
  31. Lanwarder said:

    Social media company are private companies and have no responsibility respecting the right to free speech. They have their own sets of rules which you agree to when you sign up (you know that thing you didn't take the time to read before pressing the "I agree" button?")

    August 27, 2019
    Reply
  32. Sunshine Dae said:

    We have a Republic

    August 27, 2019
    Reply
  33. Progressive Viewer said:

    Trippy visuals

    August 27, 2019
    Reply
  34. 巨人の肩 said:

    This is so true.

    August 27, 2019
    Reply
  35. pre nuptials said:

    Let's not forget traditional media companies like the Atlantic were disrupting democacy long before social media

    August 27, 2019
    Reply
  36. Ridan Wise said:

    I'm sorry but in an era where hate speech is the holy Grail of profitable content, I believe this video could have done better than to preach for a "let us all say whatever we want to say and let the archaic justice system we have in place (the same one that allowed for every single injustice perpetrated against minorities in US history) figure out what's good and what's not"

    August 27, 2019
    Reply
  37. Phil DA said:

    Wow this is an incredibly beautiful animation

    August 27, 2019
    Reply
  38. RAIDERZILLA said:

    it is what it is

    August 28, 2019
    Reply
  39. Unusuals said:

    Facebook has utterly lost its fucking mind. Everyone with a page over 5 yrs old, that I know, has been on 30 day blocks, over and over.
    Super fucked up. I Insulted the flag, skycloth demands worship, got a 30 day ban.

    August 28, 2019
    Reply
  40. _ _ said:

    visuals in this video are too distracting, that could also be a problem

    August 28, 2019
    Reply
  41. ThunderboltTangerine said:

    Trippppyyy

    August 28, 2019
    Reply
  42. aluisious said:

    Did no one have free speech before 2003? I can still say whatever I want to people I meet, which is about the only thing most people were ever able to do. If I want to hold a rally and say "the rhombus is an illegal entity," I can do it just the same now as I could 200 years ago.

    August 28, 2019
    Reply
  43. fцику мцику said:

    "Self-regulation". I chuckled. The freer we are to express ourselves, the tighter we're controlled.

    August 28, 2019
    Reply
  44. E Macías said:

    This video will soon be demonetized.

    August 28, 2019
    Reply
  45. Bookwormbandit said:

    youre not gonna fix the problem by discussing the situation dishonestly..the problem aint poc enduring racial animus…and trying to be woke here compounds the problem..and continues the paternalistic authoritarianism of the left

    August 28, 2019
    Reply
  46. lostinthelookingglas said:

    The animation is really dynamic and unsettling. I love it.

    August 28, 2019
    Reply
  47. Gerardo Ochoa-Vargas said:

    The petitio principii tout court, isn’t it? Your provincial fixation with the USA cannot fathom the existence of true freedom elsewhere. Because, as per the narrative, the threat to democracy can be only overcome with the First Amendment… which of course has yielded the whole debacle you are addressing.

    Certainly the intention of the video was to deter the social media enterprises tailored censorship and exclusion, I acknowledge. However, you may be looping and walking in circles, if your solutions are based upon the only premises to which you are familiar.

    Boys will be boys, and the USA will be boxy.

    August 28, 2019
    Reply
  48. Dalton Growley said:

    I also hate laissez faire capitalism, and the grip that powerful corporations have on our society. Social media is just a small component of that corporate control though. Focusing on only social media misses the larger point. You picked the wrong battle.

    August 28, 2019
    Reply
  49. coc0s said:

    Social media is poison.

    August 28, 2019
    Reply
  50. Tiago Lageira said:

    MGS2 predicted this during the early 2000's

    August 28, 2019
    Reply
  51. Chris Palamidis said:

    Social media aren't oxygen. You don't need them. You decide to use them having first agreed to and accepted their terms of service. Additionally, the narrator doesn't explain why when person A attacks person B in a racist manner in platform C, why should the platform C be liable or responsible of monitoring the conversation and limiting what person A can and can't say? If person A were to write a letter to person B and send it via the post office would anybody believe that the postal service has any liability on what person A said? Person B has every freedom to take any legal action against person A but why people think that should be the platform's problem is hard to see.

    August 28, 2019
    Reply
  52. Bunker Sieben said:

    Racism is not speech worthy of upholding. Criticising racism is not endorsement. AI is not so intelligent, nor are the idiots in charge.

    Also, whoever did the animations had one hell of an acid trip.

    August 28, 2019
    Reply
  53. The Atlantic said:

    Watch more from the Speech Wars series here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dg98Z-UNHjc&list=PLDamP-pfOskMSUO9gm3cntxBNsNDXq7vH&

    August 28, 2019
    Reply
  54. Sean said:

    It's just cats on IG.

    August 28, 2019
    Reply
  55. 巨人の肩 said:

    FREE SPEECH
    DOES NOT INCLUDE
    DISCRIMINATION

    August 28, 2019
    Reply
  56. Master Liberaster said:

    Wouldn't making social media post just everythung give way to populist right-wing ideas?
    For now, it seems that most influential Media are leftist. So why change that and give homophobic, trtansphobic, islamophobic, pro-life and anti-vaxx activists the right to speak?

    Not all of rheir claims might be classified as illegal, so the point stands

    August 28, 2019
    Reply
  57. To the Horror said:

    Thing is if government entities ever had power or law implemented over social media, authoritarian governments would totally threaten free speech, and it wouldn't be a neutral platform for people to speak out. Because social media now are beyond the jurisdiction of other countries to control the contents, that makes authoritarian governments want to ban them. But people know how access the contents they want if they want awareness. You just have to be able to get around with algorithms to send message across and VPNs to access them. In my country, the TV channel is government owned and controlled content. Everyday the viewers are being fed with a linear content of government boot-licking propaganda for decades. There is really no platform for questioning, debate or expression of thought. If it weren't for social media existence and awareness we would still be stupid fools funding the politicians lavish lifestyle with our taxes. We finally overturned our government.

    August 28, 2019
    Reply
  58. Hunter Elofson said:

    I applaud whomever did the visuals

    August 28, 2019
    Reply
  59. Filipe Almeida said:

    Private companies who provide online social networks are under no constraint to guarantee free speech. As it should be. The concepts of common carrier and net neutrality extend to private communications and the technical aspects of delivery (equal bandwidth/speed for all content). Not the nature of publicly available content posted on private online forums. Just as TV networks have full editorial control, Facebook, Twitter, Youtube, and etc. retain the right to censor as they so please, to the same extent that I can invite people to put up signs on my property, but I have the final absolute say on what goes up or down.

    August 28, 2019
    Reply
  60. Mi Ki said:

    The animation makes this topic much more scarier and disturbing. And it is.

    August 28, 2019
    Reply
  61. MG Massey said:

    Yes…ive got a First Amendment case I'd love to discuss offline with any Civil Rights attorney.
    It concerns the rights of survivors of pedophiles and trafficked people.

    August 28, 2019
    Reply
  62. Helen Stanford said:

    I'm all for social media sites regulating what they feel like. As pointed out, they're in the private sector so aren't obligated to give anyone the right to free speech. As someone who's used chat rooms since the mid-90s, when I worked for MSN, I'm well aware of the provider monitoring what can and cannot be said. You'd get kicked off or banned quickly if you violated their terms of service — same holds for social media providers. As with any service, people can always choose not to use the site if they don't like it.

    August 28, 2019
    Reply
  63. Baghuul said:

    Right wingers who are against regulation because of MUH FREE MARKET… now want regulation when they cant push their fascist bigotry. lol

    August 28, 2019
    Reply
  64. Josh Boucher said:

    Amazing animation

    August 28, 2019
    Reply
  65. Radimash said:

    This video is wrong btw

    The 1st ammendment is there to protect your free speech. And all it means is that you cannot be arrested for saying certain things. The government and police aren't going to come down on you for posting controversial stuff onto Twitter or Facebook.

    It doesnt mean these platforms have to let you keep saying stuff if enough people complain. If something you say gets reported enough and then your account get taken down or suspended, that's completely legal, and doesn't violate free speech.

    You can still say whatever you want, just not on that platform, if they dont want it to be so. The way you have your right to free speech, social media platforms have their right to decide who takes part in their userbase, and it's as simple as that.

    August 28, 2019
    Reply
  66. Mario Rafael said:

    Freedom of speech doesn't even exist without Freedom of thought.

    August 28, 2019
    Reply
  67. Brian Cullen said:

    I would vote a bill to changer this in

    August 28, 2019
    Reply
  68. Rude & Triggered said:

    Yas. Just yas.

    August 28, 2019
    Reply
  69. T BZ said:

    “We bring the world together” …where they proceed to burn it down.

    August 28, 2019
    Reply
  70. M Ross said:

    It's a shame this has only a few thousand views after a few days.

    August 29, 2019
    Reply
  71. Ame said:

    Yes thank you!!

    August 29, 2019
    Reply
  72. Daniel Macdougall said:

    Social media companies are not exclusively American they are used internationally.
    Therefore to insist that they have to adhere exclusively to American legislation, even though the laws involved relate exclusively to government not corporations, seems egocentric to say the least.
    A prime example of American Imperialism.
    Will you insist that we (the rest of the planet) adopt the 2nd amendment as well ?

    Being unable to vent your spleen on Twitter does not inhibit you from going elsewhere on the Internet to communicate your opinions.

    What about those who are unable to acces the Internet, surely if someone in the US can't access the Internet or Twitter then by your rationale they are having their 1st amendment rights denied. How are you going to mandate that ?

    August 29, 2019
    Reply
  73. h7hj59fh3f said:

    By forcing companies to publish all speech, you would prevent companies from moderating spam, hate speech, and other perfectly legal forms of speech that nobody values or wants in their communities. This is an incredibly dangerous proposition. But thankfully it's also unconstitutional, so it's not going to happen anytime soon.

    August 29, 2019
    Reply
  74. Daniel C said:

    The operative word is, "private sector".

    August 29, 2019
    Reply
  75. Hans Peterson said:

    Social media isn't a public utility 🤦‍♂️. Sure ISP's should be neutral to the packets that comes through their routers. Stepping in and regulating what companies like Facebook and Twitter allow and disallow will add so much red tape and set the bar of entry into the social media landscape so high that the existing social media platforms will be the ONLY social media platforms. If Facebook, Twitter, and google become over zealous with their censorship then that will open a niche for another company to step in and allow the speach that other platforms don't IF the government doesn't stop them.

    August 29, 2019
    Reply
  76. Mmm K said:

    Love the animation on this, and the message.

    August 29, 2019
    Reply
  77. Skankhunt42 said:

    Lets lynch zuckerberg. It’ll make us all feel a little bit better

    August 29, 2019
    Reply
  78. Ted Thomas said:

    You really need to start looking at these kind of issues from a global perspective. Nice animation though.

    August 29, 2019
    Reply
  79. mgarvo said:

    Mesmerising

    August 29, 2019
    Reply
  80. Rafiq Hamawi said:

    Props to the animator!

    August 30, 2019
    Reply
  81. usernotfriendly said:

    The Atlantic's "“The Speech Wars” project is underwritten by the Charles Koch Foundation".

    August 30, 2019
    Reply
  82. xSPYDRx said:

    who's this artist/animator?!?!?! i'm in love!!!

    August 31, 2019
    Reply
  83. Mr. Matt said:

    Take that Google!

    September 1, 2019
    Reply
  84. Pendejo said:

    1:34. "Censorship is an extremely blunt tool, and if we want to prevent them for exercising that vast power in ways that discriminate against certain speakers or certain ideas, we have to use other laws or other tools to constrain that power."

    How about:

    1) Get thicker skin, and stop tattling to the corporations and giving them a reason to censor?

    2) If you're on the receiving end of "hate speech," fire back with your own hate and humor.

    3) Stop looking for others to solve your problems when emotional self-control is up to the task.

    You cry for intervention, and then have the nerve to be upset when it turns on you?

    September 2, 2019
    Reply
  85. Nick d said:

    I love it. We'll be in touchtone.

    September 2, 2019
    Reply
  86. kj3283w said:

    We finally get to see some media company talk about the dangers of suppressing freedom of speech although it's very late, we've been talking about this for years in our circles. It's surprising how people on the left usually in neglect freedom of speech while loop on the ride to cherish it. That's what anyone who wants to perpetrate power would do anyways.

    September 3, 2019
    Reply
  87. William Friar said:

    This is The Atlantic, a Left-leaning media source. The video is WARNING us about media platforms having a monopoly on the “digital town square.”

    Take note of the end of the video:

    “If you don’t have free speech, online, on social media, then you don’t have free speech at all, in any meaningful sense.”

    Now, certainly, it is quite delightful to cheer for suppression of speech you don’t agree with (in all seriousness, you should’ve outgrown such sophomoric simple mindedness by now), but it’s also quite naive to believe that the mechanisms of suppression won’t get around to also suppressing YOUR point of view.

    The monsters we create (or allow to flourish) are very often of the dullard type and will one day eat US, because that’s what monsters do. Suppression of ideas is just another MONSTER that no self-respecting free society will tolerate.

    Remember, this is The Atlantic, so if you despise all things “right wing,” it’s still safe for you to consider what this video is telling us.

    Remember, when you defend your neighbor’s freedom, you are also defending YOUR OWN FREEDOM. Conversely, when you cheer for the suppression of your neighbor’s freedom, you’re also cheering for the suppression of your own.

    You wanna be selfish? Great. Then be selfish: FIGHT FOR YOUR FREEDOM BY DEFENDING YOUR NEIGHBOR’S FREEDOM . . . even if you absolutely hate your neighbor.

    Think of the long game. It’s always the long game. Don’t let what feels good right now (shutting down debate) enslave your children and grandchildren.

    September 5, 2019
    Reply
  88. William Friar said:

    "Goebbels was in favor of free speech for views he liked. So was Stalin. If you're really in favor of free speech, then you're in favor of freedom of speech for precisely the views you despise. Otherwise, you're not in favor of free speech." ― Noam Chomsky

    BEFORE you start hyperventilating —Chomsky is a LIBERAL.

    September 5, 2019
    Reply
  89. Anubis Barba said:

    You are Humans. Stop invading the virtual world and stay in your stupid planet and use your stupid voice to talk like the stupid human you are. If you want to keep losing your life in the virtual world that means that you do not value your real life and we don't mind you getting in because the more you get in the more we get out. So keep coming to us and losing your soul. We are so many that need to be reborn, and you getting lost is the only way for us to be found. Adieu.

    September 6, 2019
    Reply
  90. Paola Bueso said:

    Amazing illustration style! Thank you so much for sharing this.

    September 7, 2019
    Reply
  91. naufal naufal hazza nabila said:

    I got the chill

    September 9, 2019
    Reply
  92. jin choung said:

    what the speaker kinda misses entirely is that hate speech too is protected under the first amendment. there is no provision in federal law against "hate speech". hate speech is protected speech and absolutely should be.

    September 11, 2019
    Reply
  93. techstormster said:

    To a Socialist Democrat. Censorship is Freedom of Speech.

    September 11, 2019
    Reply
  94. abcdefghijklmno29753 said:

    Brilliant, brilliant illustration! This should have gazillions more views for the art alone, but the content itself is, of course, a pressing matter. There are those who say they don't care, but everybody should make up their mind as to what they want and expect of powerful social media – then voice it.

    September 13, 2019
    Reply
  95. 394pjo said:

    The American political system is just a bit of shadow puppetry, with the president at its centre, who is just a mirage, while all the available news coverage of it is pure fantasy. 
    Further this system is rigged to ignore all inputs that lie outside of a narrow range of interests, while the level of political discourse within the U.S is kept deliberately low for any constructive discussion of serious issues without it sinking into recriminations and threats of violence. 
    Social Media in the U.S is carefully curated by our security services to prevent the population from finding common cause by feeding trolls who create partisan divisions amongst us whilst skillfully hiding the fact that the US is not a democracy at all.

    September 24, 2019
    Reply
  96. Dixie Normous said:

    Why you should the government be involved in the regulations of the private sector companies? Making use of Social Media is your own CHOICE. So yes, if you agree to participate and agreed with the terms and conditions, these companies can decide by themselves what they enrule

    October 24, 2019
    Reply
  97. drunky monkey said:

    The revolution is currently "simmering". The "steam event" is coming. The electorate will rise against the social injustice they imposed upon themselves thereby righting the liberal barometer of this great nation to something equating to, and adherent of, our oft espoused common values. Yeah, right…….

    December 28, 2019
    Reply
  98. The Wandering Aristotle said:

    It was designed to control and those who cannot be will not be given access to.

    February 16, 2020
    Reply

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