Updated: Jul 21, 2020
MALCOLM ZOPPI | LEGAL JARGON WRITER
Large companies like Coca-Cola and Verizon have decided to halt their advertising on Facebook and Twitter. This is due to the presence and inadequate handling of hate speech and divisive content on the platforms. The action aims to put economic pressure on the social media sites, lobbying for a civil rights infrastructure. This is a news story that will be of interest to law students who learnt about the Berle v Dodd debate.
The debate aimed to decide whom large businesses are serving; whether it is their shareholders or the general public. This is a debate that seems to be recurring in this news story. Companies which halted their advertisements found that their duties of generating revenue for their shareholders should not take priority over peace and inclusion. This conclusion has been drawn by the majority of businesses through their implementation of non-profitable CSR initiatives. The news story also mentioned that Facebook justified its resistance to censoring posts on its platform by claiming to be upholding the freedom of speech.
Legal and Political Implications
This is an important point to note, as the legal implications of media companies censoring information can be dramatic. This is because employees, who would be in charge of censoring information, are not elected by the public. Further, history has taught us that any steps towards censoring freedom of speech, even if initially justified by peaceful intentions, can lead to a democratic-deficit.
The news story is noteworthy because it implies that businesses must actively and freely uphold democratic values. This is despite the absence of laws in place to enforce the proactively selfish acts. This may lead to issues of enforceability, and questions surrounding to what extent a business should forego profits for the benefit of society.
Further, if a business goes beyond what the law requires by actively making decisions which benefit the public, it assumes a socio-economic political role. The issue lies in evaluating how much political power for-profit businesses should have, as conflicts of interest are doomed to arise.
An argument could be made to the contrary to the ones above. Companies may be receiving more media attention for their lack of advertising rather than by continuing their marketing ventures as if ‘business as usual’. This would not be an unusual nor unprecedented marketing-stunt, possibly attempting to grab the COVID-filled ears of the public.
Questions for Individual Thinking
The questions lawyers should ask themselves are:
How can we regulate economic lobbying?
Are companies really aiming to aid society? If yes; should they assume political powers?
Is freedom of speech a right that can be made even more qualified?
Born in Switzerland, grew up in the Bahamas, studying in England, completed an Erasmus year in Denmark, and now living in Spain.
Malcolm prides himself on his internationality and ability to analyse current affairs from different perspectives.
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