We’re back at work, and preparing for the big fight in 2021: the Government’s plans to introduce a new criminal law for “hate speech”.

But the last few weeks have been eventful in another way: a tidal wave of speech restrictions of a very different kind.In the wake of destructive protests at the US Capitol on 6 January, Twitter and Facebook indefinitely suspended President Trump’s profiles. Then, an apparent crackdown on Trump-supporting Twitter accounts saw many thousands of users banned from the service – including hundreds of New Zealanders.

Some of these profiles were engaged in abusive behaviour, but for many more the reasons for the ban are entirely unclear. It doesn’t help that with the accounts deleted, there is no way for us to review the offending posts.

Further, after many users migrated to Parler (a social media platform with few speech restrictions), Apple, Google, and finally Amazon Web Services all cut off their support for the service, effectively rendering it inaccessible.

In short, a powerful handful of big tech companies have proven they will enthusiastically block not just individual users, but also upstart social media platforms.And disturbingly, the restrictions appear to be targeted at one end of the political spectrum.

What does this mean for free speech?
The issue of online ‘deplatforming’ may be more complicated than state-enforced restrictions on speech.

These are American tech companies. How can New Zealanders hold them to account?

* Shouldn’t a private company be free to decide who uses its service?

* What if these companies hold a monopoly, or are engaging in collusion?

* Do platforms like Twitter now act as the model ‘town squares’ and should therefore be subject to common carrier laws?

* Are these companies genuinely trying to serve their users, or are they attempting to please politicians in order to avoid regulation?

Here at the Free Speech Coalition we have been grappling with these issues. On our podcast, we invited a range of views for roundtable discussion on these questions and more.

Is big tech a threat to free speech? Click here to listen to the podcast.You can listen to the podcast online, on Apple PodcastsSpotify, and wherever good podcasts are sold.
Thank you for making this work possible.Dr David CuminDavid sig
Dr David Cumin
Free Speech Coalition