Against the frenzy of inaccurate and manipulative information consistently roaring through social media sites, the companies that manage these sites – like Facebook, YouTube and Twitter – have been trying to combat misinformation. However, they always seem to be two steps behind.
Initially, in an effort to keep up with the sheer volume of material, these companies relied on community reporting.
But this was easily abused by groups with agendas; they would target those YouTube channels or Facebook pages that appeared to disagree with their motives by reporting their content as hate speech or offensive.
Then the guardians of social media began to employ automated content readers and algorithms to try to catch the incidents of “violation of community standards.”
But that too has been a failure.
Of course, the idea that there’s some common community standard across the globe is laughable. Even Canada and the U.S. don’t have matching laws for what is permissible on broadcast television, much less trying to match community standards in Saudi Arabia or Brazil.
Regardless, imposing a community standard is often viewed as a form of censorship.
Nevertheless, these private companies are free to censor any material found on their pages. Neither American nor Canadian laws guarantee freedom of speech to private corporations’ media platforms. And although the American First Amendment and the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms are in place to guarantee protection of freedoms (including the freedom of speech) from impediment by the government, they are not applied to the private sector.
So social media corporations have no legal requirement to provide a platform to anyone and, at the same time, can arbitrarily terminate a relationship with anyone, for any reason.
But freedom of expression on YouTube or Facebook is what is generally expected. And that’s often considered as a matter of trust.
So should these companies be taken to court for antitrust violations?
The test for whether a company is a monopoly goes to marketplace share, and the business that these companies are in is Internet advertising. This is where they generate their revenue and none of them come close to the minimum level of market share used by courts to determine monopolies.
Some people allege that there’s a targeted project to silence conservative commentators. In reality, we only remember the cases where someone with whom we agree has been silenced. We rarely register when it happens to people of other political shades.
One of the most well-known incidents of a complete ban on YouTube and Facebook was the case of Alex Jones, a famously loud blowhard who specialize in creating a mad variety of conspiracy theories. I’m not a fan of Jones but I’m surely against censorship on general principle.
However, Facebook and YouTube are private companies at the whim of the marketplace. YouTube has recently made several changes that have impacted a wide variety of independent political commentators, irrespective of their political leanings.
Patreon, a website that allows bloggers to seek patron financial support from their followers, has also been cracking down on certain individuals, leading Jordan Peterson (a right-of-centre Canadian academic and political commentator) to co-found an initiative to crowdfund an alternative platform.
And that’s the real solution to social media concerns.
YouTube occupies a niche in the marketplace that has yet to see competition. Surely, it’s backed by Google’s financial depth and programming skills but at the end of the day, it’s a website with, and for, users. If enough people band together, they can finance a new platform. This is a free and open market.
While entrance to the market might be more expensive today than it was when YouTube was created, many companies and individuals could afford to fund such a creation.
None of the existing social media companies should be viewed as monopolies and none could block or prevent a competitor from joining the marketplace. There’s truly no reason why a YouTube competitor can’t be launched.
So instead of complaining about the situation, those who want change simply need to create an alternative.
Eamonn Brosnan is a research associate with the Frontier Centre for Public Policy.