Recently, a crude video making the rounds on social media claimed that John F. Kennedy, Jr. was alive and flying on Air Force One. The son of the President John F. Kennedy died in 1999 at age 38 while piloting a small plane near Martha’s Vineyard.
Has JFK Jr. been hiding out, disguising his identity for more than 20 years? Or is this video a lie?
Near unanimous agreement makes it out to be one of the sillier stories proliferating across social media.
Politicians on both sides of the political divide think something should be done about false or misleading content on social media. One argument is that platforms should do not much about it and remain neutral, allowing users to comment (and mock) as they wish. Another argument is that platforms should police what is true and false and be held responsible for false content, at least to some degree.
Underlying the controversy is a simple statement in the Communications Decency Act, Section 230: “No provider or user of an interactive computer service shall be treated as the publisher or speaker of any information provided by another information content provider.” That means that social media platforms like Facebook or Twitter cannot be held liable for something one of their users say. Illegal activity is an exception.
President Joe Biden has vowed to act, saying platforms have a responsibility to delete information they know to be false. Former President Donald Trump, whose Twitter account was deleted because of information Twitter deemed false, at one point issued an executive order saying powerful social media platforms showed political bias in what they allowed on their platforms and should be regulated. Both sides have claimed the position that the other limits free speech under the First Amendment.
The power of the tech companies revealed itself in January this year when Apple, Amazon and Google simultaneously cut off web services to Parler, a platform competing with Twitter, and effectively killed that business. Political speech was at the center of that action.
No one has an answer yet as to how the matter will be resolved. There are many questions, among them: With the billions of posts throughout the internet, is it possible to fairly moderate content? Can private companies decide what content is acceptable on their private platforms?