• Christopher Michael McHugh

Facebook & Twitter Should Finally Decide If They Are Gatekeepers Or Not

Updated: Feb 17


It is amusing to hear companies who make money off of free user-generated content complain that they can’t patrol their entire site.

You can’t have it both ways. You can’t say that you’re a neutral platform, but then go around censoring those on your platform. You’re either 100% hands off or you’re not.


This week, three Senate Democrats are pushing modifying section 230 of the Communications Decency Act. It says that “No provider or user of an interactive computer service shall be treated as the publisher or speaker of any information provided by another information content provider” (47 U.S.C. § 230).


Last year, before he was banned, President Trump got pissed about Twitter throwing a wrench into his tweets by placing a fact check warning on them. He then signed an executive order that moved to lift the exemption social media companies have being liable for what users post on their platform.


Any changes to 230 has big implications for a number of social media companies that like to have it both ways. They like to say, “It’s not our fault,” and throw their hands up in the air when “bad stuff” is on their platform. And then, when it’s really bad stuff, they take it down because of public pressure in many cases.


So we’ve got three problems here.


- Platform users who can say anything and aren’t held accountable.


- Platform owners who don’t do their job and monitor all of their platform’s posts, even though they have set a precedent that they are gatekeepers.


- Platform owners who receive complaints about user content, but say they can’t interfere because it is an open platform and the comments are the intellectual property of the user.


We didn’t have these problems in the past. So why do we have them now? Because in the past, if you wanted to make a statement you had to write a letter to the editor and sign your name to it. Or you made your opinion known by sending out mass mailing, if you had the money.


You see, if you sign your name to something, most people behave differently. It doesn’t mean that attaching a person’s contact information to posts will keep dialog civil, because it won’t always. But it will lead to more accountability.


So how do we keep people accountable online? We can require that they enter their drivers license, state I.D. or credit card information online before they post.


Is that idea outrageous? Not if you’re Maatje Benassi. She’s been falsely accused of starting the entire coronavirus epidemic. What recourse does she have to clear her name? What recourse would you have? Will or can Twitter or Facebook help her track down those who libeled her? With their current “we don’t care until it’s going to affect our bottom line approach,” the answer is no. But the U.S. Army reservist and mother of two needs to be able to track down these people, take action against them and clear her good name. Shouldn’t everyone be able to identify and respond to their accusers?


So children under 16 don’t have their own ID. So they couldn’t publish online themselves in the accountable, trackable world I just described. But did the world come to an end because most children couldn’t write letters to the editor in their local paper? No, it didn’t.


In high school, I wrote a letter to the editor because I was punished by my principal for publishing a story in the school paper exposing a sexist, male-only weight lifting club that the school had approved.


I penned my letter to the editor and sent it out. The editor called my house and got a hold of my mother. She said that she would rather it not run. The editor said he wanted to run it, and that it was well written, but it was too long, so he would not run it. Now, I did express my free speech rights, but the platform was the gatekeeper, as they should be, and they had the right to refuse publication. And they could do so because that is the precedent that they set hundreds of years ago when newspapers started gatekeeping.


Since the State Journal Register newspaper in Springfield, Illinois wouldn’t publish my beef with the school, I took my message to the local photocopying center and made plenty of copies of my diatribe that I signed my name to and handed out at school the next day. And because I did the right thing and signed my name to it, I was held accountable and offered a nice suspension.


But platforms such as Google, Facebook and Twitter refuse to properly gatekeep, even though they continually take part in gatekeeping activities, censoring, modifying and the like. For example, if you’re a small business and someone writes a false review about your business you have virtually no recourse. Google says the review is the intellectual property of the author and they can’t do anything about it. This is where platforms such as Google move firmly into the realm of operating unethically. It is unconscionable that anyone or any entity that fact checks and deals with at least one issue on their platform in a gatekeeping capacity then turns around and refuses to deal with any and all others. Because such platforms, when they edit or censor any post, fully move into a gatekeeper role and they need to be held accountable for every post on their platform.


It is amusing to hear companies who make money off of free user-generated content complain that they can’t patrol their entire site. Don’t they realize that their business model is faulty? Can you imagine the CBS network not taking responsibility for a show on their platforms and saying that they simply have too many shows to monitor and just can’t be held responsible for all of their content?


If you gatekeep once, you always have to gatekeep. No excuses. If you can’t monitor everything, then you need to scale back until you can do your job properly.

This article was written by Christopher Michael McHugh. Mr. McHugh is a producer, media analyst, marketer and the owner of McQ Marketing Group. For consulting, public speaking, interview or other inquiries, please text 203-689-3419, email Chris@McQMarketingGroup.com or call 203-689-3419.

Interested in learning about creating TV and online news. Check out Secrets of Producing TV and Online News. It’s the new bible for individuals producing content in this ever-changing and rapidly accelerating media landscape, used in universities across the United States.


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