Brow Beat

Hasan Minhaj on Content Moderation, Free Speech, and Wrong With the Internet

In the latest Patriot Act, Hasan Minhaj discusses what it means to have a show in the digital era, digging deep into modern day issues like content moderation and free speech. “20 years ago,” he said, “my father was like I want to save up so my child can be on the internet, that is where everything happens.” It was all new back then, and the world wide web seemed full of opportunities. But today, “my child cannot be on the internet,” said the host, “That is where everything happens.” He also compared social media to HPV: “Just because you don’t have it doesn’t mean it doesn’t affect you or someone you know.”

Indeed, we live our lives on the internet, and we readily hand out our information to any company that asks for it. Minhaj likens Facebook’s claim to have no influence on the 2016 elections to the tobacco companies “acting like they didn’t know smoking was bad even after four Marlboro men died from smoking.”

From doxing to cyberstalking to inciting violence and genocide around the globe, the line between the online and the real world have become increasingly blurry. Facebook has “repeatedly failed to move quickly when it comes to harassment,” said the host, joking that they, “use the same excuse I use with my dentist when it comes to flossing. I’m like I’ll do it, Dr. Peroni, just trust me. Cn we talk about this in six months?”

Now, content moderators exist and are real people having to scroll to images and videos and decide whether they are appropriate or not. Yet, “shirtty content online is not all bad for tech companies,” he explains; what drives the companies is how much people like, share, or comment on the content, not the quality of the content itself. And while they may pattern their permissiveness on the First Amendment, Minhaj suggests that tech companies may be leaning on it a little hard. “Freedom of speech is their Super Star in Mario Brothers. It lets them run through anything.”