“Platform” is a word the tech industry likes to use. Facebook provides a digital connection platform. Uber offers a transportation platform. Twitter is a “real-time, open information platform.”Platform is an ideal word for an industry that keeps its professional language hygienic and removed from corporate accountability.
To the Tech companies, a platform is a morally neutral product a company builds for others (the users) to dance, sing, or proclaim from. They pride themselves on providing nifty, innovative, and user-friendly networks as if their product is merely the conduit through which a commodity flows – be it fresh water, gas, or toxic waste. The public relations reasoning these mega-companies use is that they have provided a most elegant pipeline for our benefit, so why should they be responsible for what flows through it?
I work from a rudimentary and ancient platform called a pulpit. Never once that I can recall, have I not felt personally responsible for what was uttered from it – regardless of who was doing the uttering. Traditionally the pulpit has been a platform limited to however many people could fit within the confines of a church building. The mega-church movement increased that capacity by thousands, and multiplied it into millions with television.
For the past ten years, any pulpit (platform) from which I have spoken has been augmented by a website. Whether speaking with three or four hundred on Sunday or only dozens, the platform now extends to thousands via my website. If anything, this broader dissemination makes me more conscientious about what emanates from my platform. Add to that books and a newspaper column, and that sense of personal responsibility only deepens.
It makes me nauseous to hear the heads Facebook and Twitter use antiseptic language that conveys the notion they are merely offering a beautiful service to users who sometimes misuse it. They are in fact, personally responsible for oversight of their so-called platform, and if they cannot or will not insure the policing of appropriate limitations, those platforms should be shut down.
Conduits of hatred, bigotry, misogyny, abuse, and violence should not be protected by the First Amendment. The Supreme Court, in 1919, said free speech could be limited where it incites actions that do harm to others, shouting “fire” in a crowded theater, for example. While I fear the slippery slope too, especially with a president that actively abuses his office to belittle reporters and sow mistrust of the free press, I think we must take some risks to identify the limits of free speech in a digital age because a free market left to itself operates immorally.