(WXYZ) — The riot on Capitol Hill delayed Congress certifying the Electoral College and led to President Donald Trump being suspended by Twitter, Facebook and other platforms, citing risk of further violence.
Many conservative leaders condemned the tech company’s actions and flocked to the social media app Parler known for allowing free speech with no rules.
Then Google removed the platform from its App Store and Apple threatened to do the same if rules of conduct aren’t put in place.
“There are separate questions about whether they can do this and whether they should do this,” says John Malcom, the Vice President of the Heritage Foundation, a prominent conservative think tank with a center for legal and judicial studies, of which Malcom is the director.
“They certainly can do this. Twitter, Facebook, Google … these are all private companies and as private companies they can do what they want,” says Malcom.
But should they?
“It’s very dangerous I think to embark down the road where you are trying to stop legitimate debate, or to ban intellectual diversity from your platform. But do they have the legal right to do this? Yes they do have a legal right to do this,” says Malcom.
“We are in a democratic crisis and it is pretty clear the President is fueling it,” says Josh Pasek, Associate Professor of Communications, Media and Political Science at the University of Michigan.
“From that perspective, de-platforming is a good thing for democracy. That being said, the idea of de-platforming should make us a little uneasy,” says Pasek.
Malcom says those social media companies have lost public trust.
“People do not believe that they implement their terms and conditions and evenhanded manner, that they are biased against conservative speech,” says Malcom.
“It’s probably true that it’s been imbalanced in certain respects,” says Pasek the problem is, “the truth is not necessarily balanced across political parties on all issues at all times.”
Malcom is concerned about the precedent banning the President of the United States could set.
“What about other conservatives who aren’t the President? If you can ban the speech of the President you can certainly cut off the speech of all kinds of conservatives. That is certainly not a decision which should be taken lightly. I’m not sure that they made they right judgment call In this case,” Malcom.
But where is the line between dialogue and public safety? And should tech companies be drawing it?
“Dangerous stuff can happen from speech on social media and they do have a responsibility for the fact that is being broadcast, but the idea of putting companies in the role of trying to police this is absurd. They are absolutely not the right actors to do it. The problem is, there isn’t an obvious better actor. We don’t want the federal government doing it we seem to agree,” says Pasek.
“We are a very divided country, we have a lot of issues that we face,” says Malcom,” but it is essential that we have those debates in a civil and non-violent manner.”
Malcom says people need to take personal responsibility.
“I certainly hope that people, when they see some of the consequences that resulted from bad uses of social media, step back and say ‘woah’ is this really where we want our dialogue and our country to be going? And that they amend their habits to be more civil and socially productive,” says Malcom.
He hopes the tech companies re-examine their actions and how they enforce policies.
“They may have their liberal biases, everybody has their own biases, but that perhaps in terms of promoting a healthy debate and healthy development for our country, whether they have swung that pendulum too far,” says Malcom.