With the ongoing coronavirus crisis, Big Tech has dropped its neutral stance on the flow of information in order to combat misinformation and conspiracy theories about the virus. For several years, lawmakers and activists criticized Big Tech companies for permitting conspiracy theories and various unproven health remedies to spread on their social media platforms. But this recent shift could spell trouble for free speech after the virus is contained.
NBC News headlined the potential problems facing American consumers and Big Tech, “Coronavirus misinformation makes neutrality a distant memory for tech companies.” But the news outlet did not focus enough on the potential precedence that Big Tech’s response represents in the near future.
The article detailed Big Tech’s insistence to not take sides on conspiracy theories on platforms such as YouTube, Twitter and Facebook. But Big Tech has clamped down on hoaxes and conspiracy theories during the coronavirus crisis and have placed labels to separate verified news apart from unverified sources.
Yet NBC News only dedicated five paragraphs to the potential fallout from Big Tech’s management of information in the coronavirus crisis. “Tech companies are also likely to take some steps back after the outbreak is over,” NBC News wrote. It also acknowledged that lawmakers still have “serious concerns about moderation of many other topics.” To allay any fears of precedent, NBC News quoted Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg, who said he is not setting a precedent for Facebook to act in future cases of disinformation.
Considering Big Tech’s prior suppression against conservative free speech on social media platforms, Zuckerberg’s quote cannot be taken at face value. But NBC News did not push back on Zuckerberg’s claim and nor did it cite specific concerns about Big Tech’s control of online information. Similar to accepting Chinese government data and reports without question, the media should not believe Big Tech’s assurances at face value. It should continue to push back against Big Tech to ensure the free flow of information and free speech on their platforms.