Over the past year, social media platforms have arguably censored libertarian and conservative opinions. Most notoriously, Facebook came under fire for allegedly suppressing conservative news. On several occasions, they banned (and after pushback, unbanned) popular libertarian pages as well.
Now fake news is the latest threat to free speech on social media.
Is fake news real? Definitely. The articles with false headlines without any substance have been irksome. But the reaction to this issue may cause larger problems for those with the wrong opinions. For example, a group called PropOrNot labeled websites such as AntiWar.com, the Ron Paul Institute, Drudge Report, and Wikileaks as Russian disinformation outlets.
Whether platforms will go too far in an attempt to solve the issue remains to be seen. Some, though, have already started to act. Google changed its policy to disallow fake news sites from using Google AdSense to make money. Facebook meanwhile modified its policy to prevent such sites from advertising on the platform. The company is also planning on using fact checkers to flag articles they believe are questionable, which would cause them to fall lower on the Newsfeed. (Ben Shapiro argues that most of these fact-checkers are left-leaning)
What these actions risk are tech giants becoming the new gatekeepers of public opinion. Journalist Tim Pool states:
It gets kind of scary. Because now we’re going to have tech companies deciding who is allowed to speak, what news is real and what news isn’t, and we are reverting back to a state where only those in power can determine what we’re allowed to say.
It’s not that tech companies are going to blanket ban or blanket censor libertarian and conservative news. What is plausible, however, is that some sources with such a slant will be edged out. Those who question the official lines will be more at risk than those who don’t, and the threat of this will keep opinions more uniform.
Luckily, an alternative is waiting in the wings. Gab is a new social media platform that functions similarly to Twitter but prides itself on protecting free speech. Other than a ban on threats, violence, illegal pornography, and sharing other’s confidential information, the only censoring on the website is self-censoring. In other words, individuals choose what phrases or accounts they wish to conceal from themselves.
Gab’s free speech policy naturally attracts those whose speech is being curtailed. The largest victims of that right now are the Alt-Right (think Twitter purge); it’s no wonder they make up most of the population. (Note: I am defining ‘Alt-Right’ broadly — in general, die-hard Trump supporters who don’t fit the conservative label)
As social networks continue to censor, and as the threat of large tech companies as gatekeepers continues to grow, Gab provides an alternative for those who either have politically incorrect views or question the official line. But it does more than just provide an alternative; it provides a foot on the scale, an influence on other social media companies.
The mere existence of Gab serves as a threat. If internet titans go too far in prohibiting free speech, they will lose customers to their competitor. As evidence of Gab’s influence, Twitter, in November, added a self-censoring option, the same feature Gab was built on (though we shouldn’t be too optimistic; Twitter added a hate speech reporting option too).
What these companies need is a sharp rebuttal to their anti-free speech policies. What better way for libertarians and conservatives to do that than through the free market? Adopting Gab does just that.