MADISON, Wis. – Shortly after threatening to suspend Parler from its platform, Google, as well as Apple have removed it altogether. This comes as applications like Twitter and Facebook announced they’ve permanently suspended accounts for President Trump.
“To some degree it was surprising, simply given how momentous and unprecedented a decision it was,” said Professor Dietram Scheufele of UW-Madison. “But on the other hand, these are all corporate players, which means they need to pay attention to their consumers. Very much like Nike changed their stance on Colin Kaepernick and Black Lives Matter and really aligned themselves with where public opinion is going, I think Twitter and Facebook are seeing the exact same thing.”
Scheufele said since the platforms are not government institutions, they can decide which types of content to host and not host.
“I don’t think this is about freedom of speech at all,” he said. “This is about the marketplace of ideas and corporations choosing if they want to promote certain ideas or not.”
The professor said what this does highlight, however, is how few players control the majority of online and digital media in the United States.
“We have very few players control basically most of the infrastructure that apps like Parler can use and they can run their server space on. It highlights on one hand the immense power corporations have over the information infrastructure in this country,” he said.
So what stops the corporations from limiting other types of speech? It turns out, not much.
“Who then decides which speech is inappropriate, or inappropriate enough to where it’d have to be taken off? That’s a very difficult question to answer,” Scheufele said. “The question is, if what if Twitter at some point did the same thing on the left? Or did the same thing to a not for profit that’s pushing for lets say an issue like abortion, that parts of the country passionately disagree with? Where are we drawing the line? We don’t have a good answer at the moment, and I think this is something that we need to do some soul searching on in the months to come.”
One answer, he said, is the United States Government making the decision to treat Apple, Google, Twitter and Facebook less like private companies and more like media organizations.
“I think down the road, we need to have a discussion to which degree some of the exact same responsibilities that legacy media face and are therefore protected with first amendment rights and other things should apply to Facebook, Google and these platforms,” he said.
Another option, he said, is breaking up the media giants into smaller companies.
“I think one proposal will be to break up those corporations into smaller units,” Scheufele said. “For some of those units, I think this will be the second part, I think we’ll see a push maybe under the FCC for the political side of things to regulate the things around them much more tightly as media companies.”