Technology and Society: Internet companies and free speech | Opinion

In the old days, the discussion of privacy was centered on the Government snooping around in its citizen’s affairs.

Currently, private enterprise has become the villain of the moment. Along with many conservatives, Elon Musk is challenging websites like Facebook and Twitter for what he considers a violation of the first amendment to the Constitution which contains language protecting freedom of speech. Seems like somewhat of a contradiction for Conservatives to complain about a private enterprise censoring their posts. The owner or editor of a newspaper has the prerogative to publish or not publish Letters to the Editor precisely because the newspaper is a private enterprise and not the government. Certainly there are differences between social websites like Facebook and Twitter and Newspapers but both have the liberty of choosing which posts to publish — or not.


Hate speech or any speech which incites the populous to riot is rejected by the Letters section of most legitimate newspapers. Of course, the precise definition of “hate speech” is complicated and the job of the editor is to decide whether or not to print a letter.

Way back in the 60s, stores were posting signs, “No Shirt, No Shoes, NO SERVICE” which made many a Hippie grumble but it was accepted that the store owner could make up their own rules once you’ve entered their domain.

My guess is that if you post “NIKE Sucks” on a website like Facebook then they may decide to reject it. Worse, if you work for Nike and say that to your boss, she has the right to fire you. So censorship, as evil as it sounds, has an accepted usage in any society.

It appears we are currently trying to balance the individual’s right of free speech with the rights of a business or corporation. Within recent memory, the Supreme Court has ruled that corporations have many of the same rights as people (which, by the way, is the reason some women’s groups are urging their members to declare themselves as a corporation in order to gain the right to govern their bodies).


A recent example of this conflict is the case where Marjorie Taylor Greene, in her run for the Republican nomination for re-election to her house seat, posted ads on the Internet containing misinformation and hate speech that were deemed inappropriate by Facebook and Twitter. At first these corporations sent warnings to clean up her act, but the last straw was a video ad you can view by searching on, “Marjorie Taylor Greene Blows Up ‘Socialism’ Prius In Psychotic Ad” which has generated a fairly large reaction on the Internet.

You can view the ad in full on the Fox News website but you have to consent to them showing you ads (which means you will soon be receiving “information” from those advertisers who pay Fox for this privilege). Now, I very cleverly got around this hurdle but it didn’t work for several tries and I don’t remember exactly how I did it other than using the “brute force” problem-solving technique of trying everything that I could think of until it worked. If that approach is not your cup of tea, try viewing the tweet by Ron Filipkowski @RonFilipkowski which shows just the highlights (or depending on your political persuasion — lowlights) and gives the gist of the controversy: “Marge Greene says in 2022 she is going to “blow away the Democrats’ socialist agenda,” then blows up a car with “socialism” on it with a 50-caliber rifle she is auctioning off for contributions.”

It really is quite amazing and unsettling. Also, if you search on the above quote you can see a 4 minute video presenting the rationale for Facebook’s ban. Finally, you can view MSNBC’s take (which is definitely slanted against the ad), on the whole hooha.

Here is a synopsis selectived from the Internet on the unfolding of this hooha (Note that my bullet points are represented by 3 dashes rather than the standard representation as three horizontal bullet holes due to the inordinately complicated process afforded by my word processor, Gdrive.).

– — Greene’s Facebook ad reached more than 2 million people before being deleted.

– — “Big Tech censorship of conservatives must end,” Greene said.

– — Facebook stands by its decision; “We removed this ad, which advocates the use of deadly weapons against a clearly defined group of people, for violating our policies against inciting violence,” Facebook said in a statement to Fox News.

– — Facebook told Greene’s campaign that she can’t have ads “promoting the brandishing of firearms,” according to an email reviewed by Fox News.”


This kerfuffle is more than just a political problem, it is a societal problem.

The Internet certainly facilitates more non-facial social interaction but due to the physical distance between sender and responder, it is more rough and tumble. At least with face-to-face conversation, one is more apt to be polite. Internet comments have a tendency to be very, very rude.

While one may choose to exceed the speed limit, it is punishable by law and works to control and punish this illegal behavior.

When does rudeness while “driving” on the Internet become egregious enough to warrant applying some law and order? To solve this problem, we first need to elect congress-people who will work across the aisle. May all our children live long enough to see this come to fruition.

Dr. Stewart A. Denenberg is an emeritus professor of computer science at SUNY Plattsburgh, retiring recently after 30 years there. Before that, he worked as a technical writer, programmer and consultant to the U.S. Navy and private industry. Send comments and suggestions to his blog at, where there is additional text and links. He can also be reached at

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