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Social Media Imposing Modern-Day Hays Code on Political Speech

Social Media Imposing Modern-Day Hays Code on Political Speech

Social media companies continued to assert their power over the political sphere this week, with Twitter temporarily suspending the Trump campaign’s ability to post until it removed a clip of a Fox News interview with the president regarding COVID-19. When the Democratic National Committee reposted the video to debunk it, Twitter similarly banned the DNC from tweeting until it too deleted the footage. With Twitter seemingly unbothered by the implications of suspending a presidential campaign’s account just 12 weeks before the election, what might the future hold as control of our public squares is increasingly centralized?

Twitch became the first social media platform to formally suspend a presidential candidate’s account this past June when it deleted two of President Trump’s campaign rally videos for violations of its “hateful conduct” rules. In doing so, it emphasized the divide between physical and virtual campaigning. At an in-person rally a candidate can present the policy proposals he or she believes supporters want. Virtual rallies, however, are policed by an army of moderators enforcing ever-changing acceptable speech policies, forcing politicians to self-censor or risk deletion from the online world that increasingly shapes elections.

In the case of this week’s ban, the story is all the more remarkable because the video in question was actually a cable TV interview with the nation’s leader, meaning that social platforms were in effect banning a major news organization’s reporting. As news is increasingly consumed through social media, the upshot is that the online platform’s acceptable speech rules are being applied to traditional news outlets.

Additionally, rather than link the video to an outside fact check, Facebook simply deleted it as “a violation of our policies around harmful COVID misinformation” while Twitter forced the campaign to delete the post as a “violation of the Twitter Rules on COVID-19 misinformation.”

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