In the United States today, Free Speech is a cornerstone of our democracy; the ability to openly share ideas and opinions in a common space -- or "public square" -- allows for common understanding and cultural growth. But what happens when the digital "public square" (social media/the internet) is largely a private company? And what happens when such a company bans or "deplatforms" someone? This effectively removes them from the public square. Where is the line drawn when private companies' social media policies and a person's ideals clash?
Deplatforming: Robert Malone and mRNA Vaccines
If a person is banned from social media and effectively deplatformed, they are effectively removed from the modern public square, meaning their voices are harder to hear in the cultural discourse. In some cases, this is extremely beneficial: deplatforming someone with dangerous and violent rhetoric makes sense. But the difficulty lies in determining what constitutes "deplatformable" offenses. For exmaple, near the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, the IDH discussed the case of Robert Malone, someone deplatformed for their perspective on COVID-19 vaccines. His rhetoric cautioned against certain mRNA vaccines, and his perspectives were considered a hazard to public safety. However, his perspectives were not uninformed; in the past he was involved in multiple studies on mRNA. Was his deplatforming just? Should a trained and experienced expert be deplatformed by a private company with no connection to current medical discourse?
Prominent political figures have also faced deplatforming. Perhaps the most high profile case would be that of Donald Trump, former president of the United States. He is well known for his motivating and intense rhetoric , which has often lead to heated conversation and political tension. This largely came to a head with the January 6th Insurrection, when multiple companies issued bans removing President Trump from their platforms
As a result, Donald Trump attempted to start his own social media platform, which was promptly removed from Google and Apple's respective app stores, citing the risk of violence. Regardless of belief on where this should have happened or not, this is the first instance in U.S. history where a former President has been thoroughly removed from the "public square" and unable to address the public in the broadest reaching platforms of our modern era. This begs an open-ended question: what kind of president does this set? How will this affect the way we address public discourse?