DES MOINES, Iowa — Big tech has all but free reign on the internet. Play by their rules or you’ll find yourself sidelined on social media. Yet faced with high-profile blocks, bans and suspensions, there are growing calls to find ways to rein in big tech.
“Twitter is just how you communicate with other people,” said Zakariyah Hill of Des Moines.
The day after the riots at the U.S. Capitol, she couldn’t access Twitter. When she went to log on, an “account suspended” message showed up.
“Why us, why the Supply Hive?”
More than a month later, the co-founder of the non-profit The Supply Hive, is still waiting for an answer.
“It’s like a Twitter jail,” Hill explains. “We didn’t break any rules and we were still suspended so that’s a problem.”
“You always think, ‘Oh the people being flagged, they’re out there saying the craziest things,’” said WHO Radio host Jeff Angelo.
That was until he found himself in a faceoff with Facebook.
“I said some bad words. I said ‘election fraud.’ Suddenly I was flagged possible trouble maker,” said Angelo.
Facebook didn’t just flag his words, it fact-checked them. To Angelo, it was Orwellian.
“Our tech overlords are really starting to direct us to one set of facts, one set of opinions and saying these are the right opinions. and not right in the conservative way, but these are the correct opinions,” he said.
These days, our feeds are filled with concerns that free speech is under attack.
“The biggest misperception is that somehow the First Amendment uniformly covers businesses. The First Amendment is designed to prevent government from restricting your free speech rights,” explains Veronica Fowler with the ACLU of Iowa.
Meaning you have no right to tweet or post. Yet big tech’s censorship of free speech raises more than a few flags for the ACLU. Fowler says it’s concerning when a handful of companies have such a big megaphone.
“It’s not transparent, it’s not open. Nobody knows why some things are blocked and some things aren’t,” she goes on to say.
Freshman Congressman Ashley Hinson is taking on big tech after hearing from dozens of constituents.
“I think it’s really important that we make sure there is accountability there. That our big tech companies are following the spirit of the First Amendment,” said Hinson.
That’s why the Republican Representative is co-sponsoring the CASE IT Act. It stands for Curbing Abuse and Saving Expression In Technology Act. The proposal would reboot the immunity section of the Communications Act of 1934.
For starters, it would hold big tech accountable for blocking illegal, indecent, and harmful content — like pornography — from young viewers. It also creates penalties for stifling free speech. The likes of Facebook and Twitter could be sued for failing to uphold the First Amendment. Civil penalties range from $500,000 to $1.5 million.
“Ultimately, we want people to be able to have a free exchange of ideas without fear that their voices are going to be squashed out,” said Hinson.
“To me, the answer to free speech that may be wrong is more free speech,” explains Angelo.
But say the “wrong words” on social media and those constant notifications could suddenly stop. Cutting you off from your friends and followers.
“I do miss the Supply Hive’s Twitter account and I wish I could use it and tweet from it,” said Hill.
It isn’t just big tech keeping tabs on you. Your employer could be as well. Your free speech even jeopardizes your job.
Randy Evans is Executive Director of the Iowa Freedom of Information Council. The coalition of journalists, librarians, lawyers, educators, and other Iowans are devoted to open government. In the video below, you can hear Evans’ thoughts on free speech in the workplace and what employees need to know.
You can watch more of WHO 13’s Special Reports here.