Facebook and Twitter have been at the forefront of the national political debate for years now and it’s only been ramped up of late in the wake of the current events around the United States Presidential Election. And while those two platforms have worked to block or even ban users, some of it is coming back the other way on them. An internet service provider (ISP) in Idaho has said they will block both of the social media platforms from their WIFI services due to, what they claim are, free speech concerns, and censorship claims.
The internet company is Your T1 WIFI which operates in areas of Northern Idaho as well as Washington state. They’ll reportedly make it impossible for users to access both Facebook and Twitter, blocking the services in both the apps as well as through internet browsers. They cited specifically that the two platforms were engaged in censorship towards the internet company’s customers. The current plan is to have the block go into effect on January 13th.
Besides the mental gymnastics and ethical contortions, one needs to do around a company censoring another company because the second company is censoring (see what I mean here?), Your T1 WIFI might have run afoul of Washington’s Net Neutrality laws with their decision. Essentially, those laws state that internet providers can not block legal content. If it’s out there on the internet and isn’t itself in violation of clear laws, then there can’t be actions taken to block it no matter the opinions of users. As of right now, Facebook and Twitter are legal platforms.
Your T1 WIFI claims their move to block Facebook and Twitter was in response to a number of their customers calling and asking for the ban, saying they didn’t want their children accessing the social media giants. The company claims aspects of their customer policy and legalese in their terms and conditions allow them to make the move. But it’s likely those internal policies don’t supersede the actual law.
This move by an internet company to take action against Facebook and Twitter comes on the heels of a tumultuous week in U.S. Politics. Following the events at the U.S. Capitol last Wednesday, both Facebook and Twitter took the unprecedented action to initially limit President Donald Trump’s ability to post on either. Twitter then took it a step further over the weekend when they permanently suspended Trump’s account.
What’s followed is a debate over the ability for private companies like Facebook and Twitter to limit others from using the platforms. Some felt it was a long-overdue move with others claiming it was akin to speech suppression and censorship. Obviously, Your T1 WIFI and some of its customers thought the latter.
It’s unlikely this kind of discourse and de-platforming stops any time soon. With political rhetoric dialed up to 10, the Inauguration less than two weeks away, and a country fiercely debating how information is passed and processed through sites like Facebook, we are likely to see more extraordinary actions taken from a variety of services.