Social Media Networks’ Cooperation With Government Officials is not About Censorship. It’s About Saving Lives

July 6, 2023
Posted by: Peter Friedman, Founder, Chairman & CEO

The Louisiana federal judge’s injunction curtailing cooperation between the federal government and social media networks and the state AG’s petitions supporting it are ill-placed politicking and dangerous.

I’ve been running, managing, and moderating online communities and social media networks for over 30 years, from leading Apple’s global online communities in the 90s, to moderating AOL, and the social media presence of eBay, HBO, Walmart, top pharma brands and hundreds of others, to today. I’ve overseen millions of hours of online moderation and engagement. I have an insider’s view. Before going further, I want to emphasize that the vast, vast majority of the content of social media is fine, with a neutral to positive effect on our society. But the bad can be very bad and needs to be addressed.

On the surface, this judge’s ruling is intended to curtail the government from telling social networks what content to take down out of concerns about government interference with free speech. In particular parts of the federal government cannot contact social media companies about removing or suppressing content shared on their platforms. With exceptions when it comes to national security, crimes, or foreign influence in an election. But the injunction appears to be very broad. It’s one thing to list out such exceptions. But on a day-to-day basis government personnel may hesitate to cover a wide range of subjects in fear of violating the order. Especially since the injunction targets any form of protected speech. That could be almost anything. There is a risk of potentially chilling the fight against child predators, terrorists, criminals, and preventing suicides is alarming.

1) Almost everybody that have had their content taken down for guideline violations whines that there is a conspiracy to censor them.

While there are the odd-man-out cases of a moderator or a company official being biased about a single post here or there or making a mistake, by and large, most content removals are done because they are violating the site’s guidelines on harassment, hate speech, misinformation, profanity, pornography and so on. In today’s world, we are probably talking about billions and billions of new content posts going up every single day, with tens of millions being removed. Sometimes the algorithms screw up too, but that’s hardly political bias. That’s just imperfect software that’s not even subject to government involvement. Again, every day, billions of new pieces of content are uploaded to social networks. Those companies are doing everything they can not to get overwhelmed as they remove tons of it daily. Realistically, they don’t have the time for the complex task of sifting through all of it for political partisanship reasons.

Of important note is that liberals also cry censorship whenever their content is taken down. These days political conservatives complain the most, but the reality is, as per the social networks’ data, there is a more conservative voice on social media, virally spreading around more. That alone would mean more conservative authored content taken down. With the heightened and polarized rhetoric, we see these days. It’s likely that the greater conservative volume means not just a greater number, but a greater percentage are guideline violations.

Any way you look at it, based on decades of doing this, I can tell you the complaints about conservative content sound like the same whining I’ve heard from every single group and many individuals whose content I oversaw coming down. From conservatives to liberals to religious groups. From academics to workers to management. From law-abiding citizens to outright criminals. It’s always the same. “I didn’t do anything wrong.”, “You’re censoring me!”,” Your guidelines don’t matter. This is a free speech issue. Besides, I didn’t know there were guidelines. What are they?” and “You are part of a conspiracy against me and those with my views.” It’s the same whining almost always unfounded, except that in this case, it appears to have been conflated to political conspiracy and now federal court action.

2) For my entire 30-plus years in this industry behind the scenes, the online community and social networks have cooperatively worked with police, DAs, AGs, the FBI and so on. Not to censor anyone, but to help identify child predators, child pornographers, actual and potential terrorist acts, track down criminal offenders, and prevent murders and suicides.

I vividly recall times when our moderators frantically tried to get more than one suicidal person to relax, take it easy, and not walk over that edge. At the same time, we kept asking for their name and location to give it to legal authorities in time to save that life. Sometimes it worked. Or helping to identify child predators and child pornography rings. There was a time when one particular social network held a monthly (maybe weekly) conference call with dozens of state attorney generals’ offices to work together on addressing child predators and child pornographers.

3) In my experience, the US government doesn’t tell the social network what to do unless they have a court order. The networks can decide to ignore the government unless there is a court order. The government will point to troublesome content. But it’s up to the social network what to do unless a court order says otherwise. That covers content, privacy, and users.

If this ruling has that chilling effect of causing less government – social network cooperation, then somebody could get hurt that wouldn’t have otherwise; A terrorist is going to coordinate his plans better, a suicidal person is going to walk over that edge, and a child will be preyed upon. Surely there is a balance by which if there is any political censoring by the government, those personnel can be prosecuted as unwarranted and illegal without chilling the cooperation that saves lives.

Reference URLs on the court injunction:


The author, Peter Friedman, is the Founder and CEO of LiveWorld, the longest standing social media related company in the world and with the most years of content moderation experience. With a combination of human moderators, technology platforms, and digital agency services, for over 27 years LiveWorld has provided hundreds of programs to F500 brands in healthcare, financial services, CPG, auto, entertainment, and Internet categories. Prior to founding LiveWorld, Mr. Friedman was Vice President and General Manager of Apple’s Internet services division including its moderated online communities