But a conservative-led movement to rein in what some see as the Silicon Valley giants’ “censorship” is poised to change their approach to such decisions. Between a growing number of state laws that seek to restrict content moderation and Elon Musk’s determination to relax Twitter’s policies, posts like Ye’s may soon become more prevalent online.
A law passed by Texas last year, which could become a model for other Republican-run states if upheld by the courts, prohibits major online platforms from censoring users or limiting their posts based on political opinions they express. Legal experts told the Washington Post that such laws would make it much more risky for social media companies such as Meta, which owns Instagram, and Twitter to moderate even overtly anti-Semitic posts such as Ye’s.
And Musk said one of his goals for Twitter, should he strike a $44 billion deal to buy the company and take it private, was to provide a forum for legal talk of all kinds. “If citizens want something banned, then pass a law to do so, otherwise it should be allowed,” he said. tweeted in May.
By that standard, Ye’s tweet would likely be valid, at least in the United States, where hate speech is not against the law. “It’s a despicable tweet, but there’s no question it’s protected by the First Amendment,” said Jameel Jaffer, executive director of the Knight First Amendment Institute.
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Offensive posts are of course nothing new on social media. But the biggest platforms, including Meta, Twitter, Google’s YouTube and ByteDance’s TikTok, have become much more active in recent years in crafting and enforcing rules that restrict posts deemed threatening or hateful towards other users. or groups of people. These efforts have at times drawn backlash from prominent conservatives, from former President Donald Trump to Texas Governor Greg Abbott to Musk, who say tech companies have gone too far in suppressing conservative voices. .
Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton did not respond to a request for comment on whether Twitter or Instagram would be required to post posts like Ye’s if Texas law takes effect.
Musk did not respond to a request for comment on Ye’s tweet or if he would clear him as the owner of Twitter. When Ye resurfaced on Twitter criticizing Instagram for locking his account, Musk had replied, “Welcome to Twitter, my friend!” Musk replied again Monday night, tweeting that he had spoken to Ye and “expressed my concerns about his recent tweet, which I think he took to heart.”
Texas law says social media companies can’t “censor a user” based on their “viewpoint” — language that legal experts say could be construed as barring them from deleting anti-Semitic tweets. The measure includes an exception, however, if the material “directly incites criminal activity or consists of specific threats of violence directed at a person or group” based on characteristics such as race or religion.
It’s unclear whether Ye’s tweet would meet the criteria for material that can be taken down under the law, academics said. Deleting his Instagram post would likely be even harder to justify, as it was less overtly threatening.
Instagram and Twitter declined to say which specific rules Ye’s posts violated, a rare omission for a high-profile case.
Tech companies are trying to respond to Texas social media law
The platforms split in their response after Trump posted in response to a wave of racial justice protests, “When the looting starts, the shooting starts.” Twitter restricted the tweet under its rules against the “glorification of violence”, while Facebook held firm and left the remarks airborne. Neither company said the remarks violated their rules against threats of violence or incitement, despite calls from civil rights groups to ban it on those grounds.
Uncertainty about whether a vague but threatening anti-Semitic message would be protected by Texas law could prompt platforms to play it safe and leave it, fearing legal repercussions if they take it down. Legal experts have warned that the dynamic could have a chilling effect on companies’ moderation efforts and lead to a proliferation of hate speech.
Technology trade groups representing Twitter and other social media companies are challenging the Texas law’s constitutionality in part on these grounds.
Florida, meanwhile, has asked the Supreme Court to consider whether states can regulate the content moderation practices of tech companies, after its own law barring them from censoring political candidates or the media was largely struck down. by a court of appeal as unconstitutional. Many other states have similar laws in the works, pending the outcome of legal battles over Texas and Florida laws.
“It illustrates the incredible difficulty of knowing what you’re supposed to do as a platform operating in Texas or Florida,” said Daphne Keller, who directs Stanford University’s platform regulation program. forms. “Certainly the safest thing to do is leave it on, and that may be what the law really requires.”