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Online platforms are making up free speech rules as they go—and it’s concerning

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Online platforms are making up free speech rules as they go—and it’s concerning

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By: Yuval Shany

The dramatic events of Jan. 6, 2021, represent not only a severe crisis for American democracy—the first takeover of the U.S. Capitol building since 1812—but also a possible tipping point in the power relationship between the U.S. government and the major online platforms.

Up until recently, the U.S. government was considering whether to subject the platforms to stricter regulation—for example, by removing their immunity from claims pursuant to Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act—because of a widespread perception of failure to moderate harmful online content.

However, the decision by the largest online platforms to deplatform President Trump in the aftermath of the failed insurrection attempt marks an odd reversal of roles: The platforms have taken drastic steps to protect the democratic institutions of the U.S. government in lieu of the government itself, which failed to adequately protect the Capitol.

Almost in parallel to the deplatforming of the President by Facebook and Twitter, tech giants AppleGoogle, and Amazon withdrew the right-wing social network Parler from their app stores or web-hosting services.

These developments stand in marked contrast to the traditional hands-off policies long held by online platforms, which for many years resisted calls for moderating false content, citing concerns about becoming arbiters of the truth. They displayed particular deference toward interfering with online content posted by world leaders—alluding to the public interest in obtaining the information they posted.

See the full article in Fortune here.

Yuval Shany directs the Federmann Cyber Security Research Center of the Cyber Law Program at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. He is also vice president of the Israel Democracy Institute and former chair of the UN Human Rights Committee.

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