In the digital age, platforms like Facebook, YouTube, and Instagram are systematically and disproportionately blocking media outlets and journalists’ accounts without ensuring due process. These actions overlook the essential role of these platforms as public debate spaces, triggering global legal challenges regarding their responsibility and freedom of expression.
Can digital platforms and social networks administer justice?
By: Gabriel E. Levy B.
Imagine that your income depends on a small food transport truck. Every day, you must travel a private highway to secure your livelihood. One day, the owner of that highway decides to sanction you, preventing your passage because you transport vegetables. This, after pressures from producers neighboring the highway, was decided to be banned to prevent them from being harmed by products from other areas.
Such a decision is disproportionate and unfair, threatening your business. The most alarming thing is that the road owner acted unilaterally, without giving you the legitimate right to defend yourself or follow due process.
This situation is comparable to what happens with platforms like Facebook, Instagram, TikTok, and others. However, it’s not about vegetables, but about freedom of expression, a cornerstone of every democracy and the rule of law.
The Social Media block thousands of users and businesses daily due to inappropriate moderation. But what’s even more concerning is that many of those blocked are journalists or media outlets, limiting content publication and acting without granting rights of defense or a fair process, determining the sanction and its scope at their discretion.
Cyberspace has transformed into the digital “Wild West,” where state intervention is minimal and justice is exercised by those who control the platform?
While at first glance a reader might justify the actions of digital platforms by arguing that they are private entities and, therefore, have the right to admit or expel those they consider problematic, like how a bar owner might kick out a drunk customer, this simplistic comparison does not address the inherent complexity of the digital world.
Digital platforms are not merely “places” in the traditional sense; they function more like public debate spaces, akin to the Agoras of ancient Greece.
The concept of the Agora in ancient Greece represented a central space in city life, a place where public matters were discussed, and where the community could gather to debate ideas.
Today’s digital platforms, like Facebook, Twitter, or YouTube, serve a similar role in our modern society. They allow for the exchange of ideas, the formation of communities, and participation in public debates.
The scholar and media specialist, Tarleton Gillespie, argues in his work “Custodians of the Internet” that digital platforms are not merely tools or services, but act as “custodians” of online public spaces. Their ability to shape and moderate discourse makes them powerful actors in determining which voices are heard and which are not.
On the other hand, Professor José van Dijck, in his book “The Culture of Connectivity”, explores how social networks have transformed into sociotechnical structures that influence the formation of public opinion. Van Dijck argues that these platforms, although originally conceived as neutral tools, now play an active role in shaping culture and society, affecting the dynamics of public discourse.
The Danish researcher Anja Bechmann, in her article “Datafication and Publics: An Affordance Perspective”, examines how social networks, through datafication, are redefining what constitutes a “public”.
Bechmann argues that while digital platforms provide spaces for debate, they also structure and delimit these debates through their algorithms, having a direct impact on how public spheres are formed and understood in the digital age.
Therefore, to claim that these platforms can operate purely as private entities, without considering their impact on public discourse, is to minimize their significance in shaping modern society and democracy.
It is essential to recognize that their role goes beyond that of mere businesses and, consequently, they should be subject to more detailed consideration and regulation regarding how they handle freedom of expression and public discourse on their platforms.
Complaints from Observacom
In recent years, the Latin American Observatory on Regulation, Media, and Convergence (Observacom), based in Uruguay, has highlighted how digital platforms: Facebook, YouTube, Instagram, Google, and TikTok, have sanctioned and censored journalists and media outlets in Latin America on a massive scale and without consistent criteria.
These actions, carried out without due process and in a unilateral and disproportionate manner, are concerning.
Observacom, as an independent entity, is fostering a debate throughout the region for the adoption of legislation that requires large platforms to invest in mechanisms that ensure due process and the right to a legitimate defense.
Furthermore, they aim to promote interaction with human beings instead of mere algorithms, urging these companies to embrace international freedom of expression standards and to respect the civil rights of citizens.
The Case of Canal Capital
Canal Capital, a Colombian public media outlet, has faced restrictions on its Facebook page for nearly two months, preventing them from publishing videos and other content, due to a video with 28 seconds of content protected by FIFA.
Although the channel’s possible inadvertent mistake is not disputed, it is evident how the META platform exercised a sort of self-administered justice, applying a disproportionate sanction. The media outlet was not guaranteed due process or the right to defense. Most alarmingly, this excessive penalty impacted their right to free expression, which ultimately amounts to censorship.
Despite removing the video in question and attempting multiple communications with Facebook and Meta, the channel has not received formal responses or the opportunity to appeal. These sanctions limit their ability to report, affecting the media’s freedom of expression and the audience’s right to be informed, especially in a pre-election context in Colombia.
¿ Does an international private corporation have the right to limit the freedom of expression of a public media outlet??
In summary, as digital platforms and social networks establish themselves as essential spaces for debate and public communication, there is a growing concern about their role and responsibility in content moderation.
In the case of Canal Capital, a Colombian public media outlet, Facebook (part of the META conglomerate) imposed sanctions that impacted its ability to report, highlighting the unilateral exercise of “justice” by these platforms. These actions, taken without ensuring due process or the right to defense, affect freedom of expression and can be interpreted as acts of censorship. This situation raises a fundamental question: Should digital platforms and social networks act as judges and administer justice on their own? The answer has profound implications for the health of our democracies and the guarantee of fundamental rights in the digital space.