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5 dead: Parlers freedom of speech policy blamed for violence

Amazon officials were concerned that Parler could not police its platform to prevent acts of inciting violence as the absence of content moderators or even artificial intelligence to root out and remove volatile posts.

Parler, the social media website, was dropped from the Amazon webserver, effectively taking the platform off of the internet. Section 230, which is effectively the internets Freedom of Speech Law in the US, may protect Parler. But if Parler loses, then other social media platforms like Facebook and Twitter may have to curtail their freedoms.

Article 10 of the Human Rights Act: Freedom of expression

At what point does censorship impinge on human rights? Article 10 of the Human Rights Act states:

1. Everyone has the right to freedom of expression. This right shall include freedom to hold opinions and to receive and impart information and ideas without interference by public authority and regardless of frontiers. This Article shall not prevent States from requiring the licensing of broadcasting, television or cinema enterprises.

That is, the right to air views and opinions using the following methods…

  • publish articles, books or leaflets
  • public protest and demonstrations
  • television or radio broadcasting
  • works of art
  • the internet and social media

This law also preserves your right to receive information from other people.

Parler silenced

However, it doesn’t end there but goes on to say :

2. The exercise of these freedoms, since it carries with it duties and responsibilities, may be subject to such formalities, conditions, restrictions or penalties as are prescribed by law and are necessary in a democratic society, in the interests of national security, territorial disorder or crime, for the protection of health or morals, for the protection of the reputation or rights of others, for preventing the disclosure of information received in confidence, or for maintaining the authority and impartiality of the judiciary.

In other words, authorities may restrict the right of free expression if they can demonstrate that their action is lawfulnecessary, and proportional to perform the following …

  • safeguard national security, territorial protection (the borders of the country) or public security
  • preventing disorder or criminal offences
  • protection of health or morality
  • safeguarding the rights and reputations of other people
  • prevent the disclosure of information received in confidence
  • maintain the authority and impartiality of judges

The Far Left & Far Right

The majority’s political opinions are in the middle, and the floating voter decides which way to vote based upon the policies, candidate, values and personal requirements.

To swing to the left is to vote liberal and can suggest a preference for anything new. It can mean a tearing down of the past, equality, freedom (in any shape or form) and communism; the more to the left, the more extreme the opinions. The re-writing of history, losing moral fundamentals, tearing down statues, beheading the aristocrats and sharing resources regardless of fairness.

Swinging to the right is a conservative vote. Emphasis is on self-discipline, order, preserving history and traditions, learning from the past, preserving what is already established—gradual development rather than sudden changes. The right prefers lower taxes and regulation of businesses and investments, and they advocate personal financial responsibility. The conservative mindset is to maintain the status quo, and they tend to be traditionalists and nationalistic. However, going further to the right nationalism can become fanatical shifting towards fascism or nazism.

Why do people become political extremists?

Studies have shown that those that have experienced adversity – violence, loss, illness, disability or poverty are more likely to develop an extreme political viewpoint. Both the far left and right attract the ‘victims’ of adversity.

Extremism can also arise from boredom! Scientists have noticed that youth, wealth and education can be the prime factors that lead to political extremism. Well educated young people who have no financial responsibilities have the time and recourses to stir the political pot. They are attracted to both the extreme right and left and are more eloquent than the poorer ‘victims of adversity’, resulting in organisational and leadership roles.


Parler Platform and Article 10

‘Any restriction should be as specific as possible. It would be wrong to ban an entire website because of a problem with one page.’

Amnesty International UK

On 6th of January 2021, a horde of President Donald Trump’s supporters assailed the US Capitol to protest against legislators for confirming controversial votes they believed were invalid from contentious states. The protest promptly turned violent, resulting in five deaths.

Amazon, Apple and Google then banned Parler, who was accused of providing the dissidents with a platform to plan the Capitol’s attack. At that time, Donald Trump was still the United States president and was banned from the social media website Twitter being accused of inciting the violence.

Amazon’s response to the lawsuit claimed that it has ‘no legal basis’. Apparently, employees from both sides of this lawsuit have been harassed and threatened by members of the public and organised groups.

The Parler Platform provided people worldwide a means to express their opinions without the censorship found on other social media websites that are supposedly left-wing, politically speaking, but can they be held responsible for the consequential violence?

Storming the Capitol

The protest on the 6th of January 2021 was completely legal, according to article 10 of the Human Rights Act, the protesters had the right to have their voices heard. So why the violence? Who started it? Who would it benefit?

The answers to these questions may never come to light, but placing the blame on Trump supporters may be a ruse. That day’s activities were broadcast openly, so advocates of the extreme left or right could have been the offenders.

The violence seems unlikely to benefit the political right. Still, the left could go on to ban websites that are not under their control, discredit the president of the United States and destroy his reputation so that he can never be elected again. The impeachment of the president is overkill.

John Matze, CEO of Parler accused Amazon, Apple and Google of coordinating an attack to kill the competition.

“We were too successful too fast, you can expect the war on competition and free speech to continue, but don’t count us out”

John Matze, CEO of Parler

Did any of these events breach Article 10?

Organising a demonstration or protest through social media is not against the law, the prevention of which may violate Article 10 because people have a right to express their views and opinions without the interference of public authorities, protests are not illegal. However, this can be overruled if the dialogue suggests taking violent actions that could endanger the public.

Authorities may restrict the right of freedom of expression (the protest) to prevent disorder and protect public safety. This was the police’s role whose behaviour should have been lawful, necessary and proportional according to Article 10.

Article 10 may be overruled by the authorities to protect the rights and reputations of others. Although the accusations and impeachment might have damaged President Trump’s reputation, it is also recognised that public officials have to tolerate a higher degree of criticism than private individuals.

Amazon accused of breach-of-contract

Following Parler’s removal from the internet, Parler filed a breach-of-contract lawsuit against Amazon Web Services for not providing Parler with the 30-day notice before terminating service.

“When Twitter announced two evenings ago that it was permanently banning President Trump from its platform, conservative users began to flee Twitter en masse for Parler, the exodus was so large that the next day, yesterday, Parler became the number one free app downloaded from Apple’s App Store.”

David J. Gresbeck, Attorney for Parler

However, Amazon officials were concerned that Parler could not police its platform to prevent acts of inciting violence as the absence of content moderators or even artificial intelligence to root out and remove volatile posts.

“Amazon made the only real choice that it could, which was to suspend the account”

Ambika Doran, a lawyer for Amazon

Groesbeck attempted to find a quick solution by getting a temporary court order to restore Parler to the Amazon servers during the litigation. Still, U.S. District Judge Barbara Rothstein rejected this. Groesbeck finally admitted that a ‘slower approach’ would be better.


What is Section 230

Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act was passed in the US in 1996. It states that an interactive computer service can’t be treated as the publisher or speaker of third-party content. Therefore if a user posts something illegal, the website isn’t liable. However, there are exceptions regarding federal criminal law, sex work-work related material and copyright violations.

Section 230 is controversial, misunderstood and misinterpreted. It has been argued that this law protects powerful companies, allowing them to ignore the harm to users. Others believe that it only protects ‘neutral platforms’. Similar legislation exists in Europe and Australia.

In the United States, private companies can create rules to restrict speech if they choose. Even though the US First Amendment prohibits the government from restricting most speech forms, Facebook and Twitter are within their legal rights to create their own rules and have done so.

Proposed Changes to Section 230

Surprisingly both President Trump and Joe Biden have agreed that Section 230 needs to be seriously curtailed or even repealed. However, after becoming President, Biden hasn’t put forward a specific agenda on Section 230.

Parler and Section 230

Due to the restrictions found on Facebook and Twitter, Parler founded its platform on the idea of ‘Freedom of Speech’ and signed a contract with Amazon’s web hosting services.

In recent months Amazon has documented hate speech and incitement to violence on the Parler platform. In November 2020 a Parler user commented

“The only good democrat is a dead one. Kill ’em ALL!”

Although the moderates may let such a comment wash over their heads, allowing everyone to say what is on their minds, remember the extremists. The far left and right, the victims and the bored wealthy youngsters. Such a comment might be seen as a ‘call to arms’ for either side!

Parler having been made aware of this by Amazon, replied about the post,

“hateful as it is, would not be deemed a violation of our terms of service.”

Amazon forwarded over 100 comments advocating violence to Parler between the November Post and their decision to suspend the platform. Perhaps in hindsight, Parlers moderate’s view to the hate speech on their platform was irresponsible and lacking in the psychological understanding of extreme groups.

Amazon being a web hosting platform has its own rules and policies which were broken by Parler. According to the terms of service agreed with Parler, Amazon’s “acceptable Use Policy prohibits content that violates

“the rights of others, or that may be harmful to others.”

In reflection

It seems clear that neither the users of Parler nor the team behind the Parler platform understood Section 230 or section 2 of Article 10 of the Freedom of Speech Act.

2. The exercise of these freedoms, since it carries with it duties and responsibilities, may be subject to such formalities, conditions, restrictions or penalties as are prescribed by law and are necessary in a democratic society, in the interests of national security, territorial disorder or crime, for the protection of health or morals, for the protection of the reputation or rights of others, for preventing the disclosure of information received in confidence, or for maintaining the authority and impartiality of the judiciary.


BNA

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