Just Because It’s Within Your Rights, Doesn’t Make It Right

The majority of students at this institution are citizens of the United States, who are granted by law rights and liberties that are often portrayed as the gold standard of human rights for the world. Not only citizens are granted these rights, however, as any privately funded corporation too can claim lay to many of these freedoms. This, however, is where the moral questions arise.
Freedom of speech gives Americans the right to say whatever they want, wherever they want, right? Of course not – the law only guarantees this protection in the public realm. Private organizations can impose penalties on those who affiliate with them. Take Hotchkiss for example. Our Almanac reads, “content created using Hotchkiss resources, displaying the Hotchkiss name or logo, or in any way depicting The Hotchkiss School, its employees, or students, must not negatively portray the School or its community,” meaning that there is a chance that this editorial could be prevented from ever reaching The Record’s website and the editorial staff could face punishment from the administration should it be deemed unfavorable in the eyes of the administration. And yet, like the many other Opinions pieces before this, this editorial will likely remain uncensored at the will of a conscious moral decision by the school.
But what happens when a private organization or company has the ability to censor potentially millions of opinions, should their morals be left up to the task? To find the result of this you have no farther to look than your favorite social media apps, forums, or search engine. These corporations use content moderation for all sorts of purposes, ranging from keeping certain sites free of content deemed unsafe for children to preventing the spread of “fake news” on their platforms. There is nothing stopping Facebook from blocking certain political viewpoints, and in 2019 they did just that. The move caught national attention when President Donald Trump voiced his own concern. Trump went so far as to have the White House create a site for users to report times when they have been censored and greeting them with the text, “SOCIAL MEDIA PLATFORMS should advance FREEDOM OF SPEECH.”
However, when Facebook censored these individuals, they were doing exactly as Trump’s site asks and “advanc[ing] FREEDOM OF SPEECH.” Facebook’s right to censor stems from the First Amendment itself, in fact, Facebook is expressing its own right to freedom of speech when it chooses to reject content on its platform. The same is true when Hotchkiss chooses to take action against a student over a comment. The ability of private entities to censor their users or customers isn’t going to change anytime soon, but that’s not a bad thing. Without content moderation, social media would be a cesspool of potentially vulgar, violent, or otherwise disturbing content.
But just because it is within institutions’ rights to censor content doesn’t mean they should. Enter the Hong Kong protests. We are not going to choose a side in that conflict. Over the past month, we have seen notable cases of American companies (including Apple, National Basketball Association (NBA) and Activision-Blizzard Inc.) coming to grips with balancing their need for Chinese investment with their public image in America. The NBA chose to support Daryl Morey, a manager of a team within the league, when he spoke out in support of Hong Kong protesters. The NBA’s support for free speech goes both ways too as the league’s commissioner also voiced support for players who chose to speak out against Morey’s tweet. Then there’s Activision-Blizzard, who suspended and revoked earnings from a player in one of their e-sports franchises for voicing his support for Hong Kong protesters in a post-match interview. That ruling has now been reduced in severity, but it shouldn’t ever have been issued in the first place.
In both of these cases, the American companies were well within their rights, but that doesn’t mean that Activision-Blizzard’s response was right. We are certainly not the ones to decide where the moral line stands for a company when they control the opinions of individuals, but we can certainly hold those companies that do censor immorally accountable with our wallets.