From the Viewsroom

Unilateral gag power

Meenakshi Verma Ambwani | Updated on January 12, 2021 Published on January 12, 2021

Tech giants shouldn’t have the right to shut a social media account

Last week, social media giants set a new precedent by banning US President Donald Trump on their platforms, post the tragic Capitol Hill riots. While for many it was good riddance to Trump’s repetitive false claims about election fraud, others have been quick to put the spotlight on how powerful the big tech companies have become and what it could mean for elected leaders and the tenets of free speech in the coming days.

This comes at a time when there are so many social media accounts out there that continue to exploit these platforms to peddle fake news and promote hate speech unabashedly and unabated. While these platforms cannot obviously be held liable for content posted by their users, they haven’t so far come up with a credible mechanism to rein in such content or users.

Also, a key question is whether these mainstream social media companies will be able to use the same precedent in all their markets uniformly, considering they need endorsements by government authorities in many markets. Did they, for instance, get the courage to ban Trump only because he lost the election and no longer wields political power? At the end of the day, these are listed entities that will first focus on profits for their shareholders. Can these commercial entities be allowed to have the sole power to pull the plug on social media accounts when it comes to political speech or elected leaders?

While inciting violence is a tenable reason for banning a political leader, there have been instances where free speech and dissenting voices have ended up being throttled in this process.

When it comes to political speech, one can only hope such a precedent is used sparingly. The power to allow or suspend social media accounts of elected leaders cannot be left with commercial entities.

Maybe it’s time for legal frameworks across countries to ensure social media platforms do not end up censoring credible voices, while allowing others to propagate hate speech.

Follow us on Telegram, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, YouTube and Linkedin. You can also download our Android App or IOS App.

Published on January 12, 2021
  1. Comments will be moderated by The Hindu Business Line editorial team.
  2. Comments that are abusive, personal, incendiary or irrelevant cannot be published.
  3. Please write complete sentences. Do not type comments in all capital letters, or in all lower case letters, or using abbreviated text. (example: u cannot substitute for you, d is not 'the', n is not 'and').
  4. We may remove hyperlinks within comments.
  5. Please use a genuine email ID and provide your name, to avoid rejection.