The Supreme Court is considering possible changes in how social media platforms deal with content.
There are two main issues: Should social media platforms be able to take down content without any process in place? And can they be held liable for content they don’t take down?
I don’t really feel I have too much at stake in these matters. All I care is that, if something I write gets pulled down, the site tells me what it was. I’ve had posts on Quora I’ve written taken down, and all the notice I’ve had was “your post was deleted” with no word about which post. I’m sitting here posting 10, 15, 20 posts a day, and I’m supposed to guess which one was deleted? Please.
I can’t imagine how the liability question could affect me, because I’m not Alex Jones or anything remotely resembling Alex Jones. If I were Alex Jones, I would have worse problems than worrying about whether Facebook or Twitter could block my posts to protect themselves from liability. I’d be trying to figure out how to pay my lawyers and nearly a billion dollars in civil damages.
It’ll be interesting to see how SCOTUS justifies changing the rules. Will they cite Elon Musk’s behavior as demonstrating a changing online culture? If Trump can get back on Twitter, does that mean none of us should be banned from Twitter, or is it still up to the company? What’s changed? What is the difference?
I’ve had brushes with being banned from online sites, mostly in the very early days, before Facebook, when I was on a listserv. I posted a very sweet, adorable, innocent poem celebrating my main male organ. People on the listserv objected on the grounds that their grandmothers often looked over their shoulders while they read their email. I thought, “That’s a you problem, not a me problem,” and, “Maybe you should tell your grandmother to bug off.” But I didn’t say that, because I figured it would only get them more worked up. So, I just rode it out. The storm lasted only about four weeks. Then everybody moved on to some other offender, and I was excused from my own disapprobation.
Much later, I posted a couple of pieces on Facebook that were loosely inspired by some of Henry Miller’s work concerning his life and times in Paris. Really, just loosely. Relax.
OK, I may have overdone it. I got blocked by several readers. But for some reason Facebook itself was fine with my posts. Twenty-first-century community standards turned out to be in my favor. Henry Miller should have had it so good. Here’s the trick, Henry: Be born later. And don’t hold back so much.
Nowadays, my most offending Facebook posts are all relentless Romanian goatherd music videos, as I call them. (They’re really shepherd music, but I like to say goatherd, because goats are more fun than sheep.) People don’t block them: they just complain, because they don’t understand why I would post so many Romanian goatherd songs. But, but, they’re so precious! I can’t bring myself to stop. I’ve also lately begun to post pre-World War II and post-war Japanese songs. So far, to dead Facebook silence.
Also, I post way too much Turkish Halay dance. People go, “Whut?” Actually, it’s really not that hard to appreciate.
I guess what I’m wondering is, how can SCOTUS navigate these shifting community standards and still claim to be following the First Amendment? I mean, if people really didn’t like the goatherd music, why couldn’t Facebook delete it? It’s their site. They want their customers happy, right? It’s their press, they get the call. I’d be fine. I’d just like a proper notification, that’s all. If nobody wants to see the Turkish line dancing, I can live with that. Just let me know.
In other court news, a judge in Florida has fined Trump and a Trump lawyer (there are so many, I can’t keep track) nearly a million dollars for filing frivolous lawsuits. What more can I say? Of course that has happened. Why not?
I’ll be surprised if it sticks. Trump will appeal it until he’s dead, and then for 20 years more. He’ll denounce it on Twitter. Elon Musk will support him. Who knows how the liability question will play out?
Read more of the Jan. 25-31, 2023 issue.