Two weeks ago, Politico revealed President Donald Trump was working on an executive order which has the potential to drastically change how we can use the internet.
After viewing the order, CNN reported it aimed to scale back some legal protections given to people and companies who run websites and apps. In short, if someone posts something illegal to host, it goes from being solely the user’s legal problem to potentially implicating the site itself.
According to both Politico and CNN, the order was designed to help curb “anti-conservative bias” on social media. The idea of some sort of left-wing bias has been growing ever since Alex Jones was banned from Twitter, Facebook and YouTube.
Whether or not Trump is right in saying there is some sort of mass conspiracy theory-level censorship going on online right now, it has to be up to regular citizens and users to put pressure on these companies to fix their issues. We can’t rely on or even allow the government to wield this level of implied or explicit censorship.
One of the best features of the internet, especially compared to other mediums like radio and TV, is its accessibility. Everyone has the chance to make and distribute whatever kind of content they want, whether it is a vlog seen by hundreds of thousands of people, a Facebook rant about an ex or even just a picture of a dog.
Let’s look at Youtube in particular: think about how many videos are being uploaded to Youtube every day. According to TubeFilter, in 2015 YouTube CEO Susan Wojcicki said 400 hours of content were being uploaded every minute. That is impossible to monitor on a large scale as things are being uploaded.
So if YouTube is being punished for what they feel they need to remove, or, keep up, the number of people who are going to be granted access to upload things to YouTube is going to change.
It’s not hard to imagine a YouTube where the only people who can upload videos are verified personalities or large companies, which completely defeats the original purpose of YouTube as a platform. At that point, we might as well call it TV 2.0, because the same people who have a platform on TV are going to be the only ones with a platform on YouTube.
If the government starts imposing punishments on websites for how they moderate or protect their communities, the simplest, and most importantly, cheapest, way to fix that is to restrict what people can post to their profiles.
Any sort of government oversight of this scale, especially from the U.S. government which has historically not understood how technology works at a basic level, could be disastrous.
Unfortunately, with this being suggested as an executive order, there’s not much the average citizen can directly do to stop it from happening if Trump is dead-set on pushing these kinds of regulations through. However, we can still contact our legislators in Congress on both sides of the aisle and do our best to convince them that this kind of regulation is not in anyone’s best interests.