Skip to comments.Why Freedom of Speech Should Apply to Google, Facebook and the Internet
Posted on 05/14/2019 11:39:07 AM PDT by Louis Foxwell
Daniel Greenfield, a Shillman Journalism Fellow at the Freedom Center, is an investigative journalist and writer focusing on the radical Left and Islamic terrorism
But, its a private company.
Its a familiar argument. Bring up the problem of Google, Facebook and Twitter suppressing conservative speech and many conservatives will retort that its a free market. The big dot com monopolies created their own companies, didnt they? And we wouldnt want government regulation of business.
In a FOX Business editorial, Iain Murray writes that breaking up dot coms like Google would be "a repudiation of conservative principles". He argues that "Twitter is a private company" and that "there is no positive right to free speech on Twitter or any other private venue."
The same goes for the presidents attacks on Google and the complaints of conservative censorship," Diane Katz writes at the Heritage Institute. "These private enterprises are not obligated to abide any sort of partisan fairness doctrine."
The talking point that Google, Facebook and Twitter are private companies that can discriminate as they please on their private platforms, and that the First Amendment doesnt apply, is in the air everywhere.
But it overlooks two very simple facts.
The driving force behind the censorship of conservatives isnt a handful of tech tycoons. Its elected officials. Senator Kamala Harris offered an example of that in a recent speech where she declared that she would "hold social media platforms accountable" if they contained "hate" or "misinformation".
Misinformation is a well-known euphemism among Democrats and the media for conservative political content. It was originally known as fake news before President Trump hijacked the term to refer to the media. The recent Poynter list of unreliable sites was stacked with conservative sites. Lists like these arent hypothetical. Poynter runs the International Fact Checking Network which had been empowered by Facebook and other sites to deplatform conservative content through its fact checks.
All of this got underway in response to claims by Hillary Clinton and her allies that fake news had cost her the election and represented a grave attack on our democracy. The call was quickly taken up by Democrats in the House and the Senate. Its been commented on supportively by powerful Clinton allies in the tech industry, like Eric Schmidt, the former chairman of Google.
Dot coms like Facebook are cracking down on conservatives as an explicit response to pressure from elected government officials. Thats not the voluntary behavior of private companies. When Facebook deletes conservatives in response to threats of regulatory action from Senate Democrats, its censors are acting as government agents while engaging in viewpoint discrimination.
Free market conservatives can argue that Facebook should have the right to discriminate against conservatives. But do they really want to argue that Senate Democrats should have the right to compel private companies to censor conservatives?
Whats the difference between that and a totalitarian state?
It might, arguably, be legal for your landlord to kick you out of your house because he doesnt like the fact that youre a Republican. But is it legal for him to do so on orders from Senator Kamala Harris?
Defending abusive behavior like that is a desecration of the free market.
The second fact is that the internet is not the work of a handful of aspiring entrepreneurs who built it out of thin air using nothing but their talent, brains and nimble fingers.
The internet was the work of DARPA. That stands for Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency. DARPA is part of the Department of Defense. DARPA had funded the creation of the core technologies that made the internet possible. The origins of the internet go back to DARPA's Arpanet.
Nor did the story end once the internet had entered every home.
Where did Google come from? "The Anatomy of a Large-Scale Hypertextual Web Search Engine," the original paper by Sergey Brin and Larry Page, the co-founders of Google, reveals support from the National Science Foundation, DARPA, and even NASA.
Harvards computer science department, where Facebooks Mark Zuckerberg learned to play with the toys that turned him into a billionaire, has also wallowed in DARPA cash. Not to mention funds from a variety of other DOD and Federal science agencies.
Taxpayer sank a fortune into developing a public marketplace where ideas are exchanged, and political advocacy and economic activity takes place. That marketplace doesnt belong to Google, Amazon or Facebook. And when those monopolies take a stranglehold on the marketplace, squeezing out conservatives from being able to participate, theyre undermining our rights and freedoms.
"A right of free correspondence between citizen and citizen on their joint interests, whether public or private and under whatsoever laws these interests arise (to wit: of the State, of Congress, of France, Spain, or Turkey), is a natural right," Thomas Jefferson argued.
There should be a high barrier for any company seeking to interfere with the marketplace of ideas in which the right of free correspondence is practiced.
Critics of regulating dot com monopolies have made valid points.
Regulating Google or Facebook as a public utility is dangerous. And their argument that giving government the power to control content on these platforms would backfire is sensible.
Any solution to the problem should not be based on expanding government control.
But there are two answers.
First, companies that engage in viewpoint discrimination in response to government pressure are acting as government agents. When a pattern of viewpoint discrimination manifests itself on the platform controlled by a monopoly, a civil rights investigation should examine what role government officials played in instigating the suppression of a particular point of view.
Liberals have abandoned the Public Forum Doctrine, once a popular ACLU theme, while embracing censorship. But if the Doctrine could apply to a shopping mall, it certainly applies to the internet.
In Packingham v. North Carolina, the Supreme Court's decision found that, "A fundamental principle of the First Amendment is that all persons have access to places where they can speak and listen."
The Packingham case dealt with government interference, but when monopolies silence conservatives on behalf of government actors, they are fulfilling the same role as an ISP that suspends a customer in response to a law.
When dot com monopolies get so big that being banned from their platforms effectively neutralizes political activity, press activity and political speech, then theyre public forums.
Second, rights are threatened by any sufficiently large organization or entity, not just government. Government has traditionally been the most powerful such organization, but the natural rights that our country was founded on are equally immune to every organization. Governments, as the Declaration of Independence asserts, exist as part of a social contract to secure these rights for its citizens.
Government secures these rights, first and foremost, against itself. (Our system effectively exists to answer the question of who watches the watchers.) But it also secures them against foreign powers, a crisis that the Declaration of Independence was written to meet, and against domestic organizations, criminal or political, whether its the Communist Party or ISIS, that seek to rob Americans of their rights.
A country in which freedom of speech effectively did not exist, even though it remained a technical right, would not be America. A government that allowed such a thing would have no right to exist.
Only a government whose citizens enjoy the rights of free men legally justifies is existence.
If a private company took control of all the roads and closed them to conservatives every Election Day, elections would become a mockery and the resulting government would be an illegitimate tyranny.
Thats the crisis that conservatives face with the internet.
Protecting freedom of speech does not abandon conservative principles, it secures them. There are no conservative principles without freedom of speech. A free market nation without freedom of speech isnt a conservative country. Its an oligarchy. Thats the state of affairs on the internet.
Conservatives should beware of blindly enlisting in leftist efforts to take regulatory control of companies like Facebook. The result would be a deeper and more pervasive form of censorship than exists today. But neither should they imagine that the free market side of history will automatically fix the problem.
As the internet has devolved from its origins in academia to a set of handheld devices controlled by one of two companies, and then to a set of smart assistants controlled by one of two companies, it has become far less open. Even if Google were to lose its monopoly, Silicon Valley hosts a politicized workforce which allies with the media to compel any rising new company to toe the same line.
And if that fails, there are always House and Senate hearings and harder laws coming out of Europe.
We have an existing useful toolset to draw on, from anti-trust laws to civil rights investigations to the Public Forum Doctrine. This will be a challenging process, but we must remember through it all, that we have a right to freedom of speech on the internet. Our tax dollars, invested over generations, built this system. It does not belong to the Left. Or, for that matter, the Right. It belongs to all of us.
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That sounds all well and good, theoretically, but there is a disparity in the power, wealth and reach those entities hold.
If social media firms and organizations (like FR) are going to be held to a free speech standard then they must also be immune to lawsuits against them for whatever content gets posted on their sites/applications/forums.
Didn’t the courts already rule that Trump can not ban anyone from his twitter feed due to free speech issues? Sounds to me like the courts have already ruled twitter is a public utility.
But, its a private company.
Aren’t they publicly owned?
Google, for instance, manipulated the 2016 campaign so severely that it resulted in a 10 point polling advantage for Hillary over Trump.
Yet she still lost.
Unless these social media monopolies are regulated, our basic freedoms and liberties will be further taken away.
Freedom of the press is limited to those who own one
-attributed to Ben Franklin
I am amazed at ANYONE of any political persuasion who expects any news organ to even try to be fair. For most of our history as a country every newspaper was aligned with one side or the other. How many newspapers still have ‘Democrat’ or ‘Republic’ in their names?
utterly silly to expect anything other than hyper partisanship from any media outlet, unless one is expecting their newspaper to delivered on a purple unicorn.
Perhaps you will listen to Daniel Greenfield.
And they use cell towers, which like all other communication towers/antennas are regulated by the FCC
if there should be freedom of speech on fb and ig, should there be freedom of speech on fr too?
Exactly. The law NEEDS to be that social media platforms will not be held liable for content published by their customers, and with such exemption they are precluded from censoring the content published by any customer. Make that the law, and all the censorship issues go away, without giving the government control.
“In a FOX Business editorial, Iain Murray writes that breaking up dot coms like Google would be “a repudiation of conservative principles”. He argues that “Twitter is a private company” and that “there is no positive right to free speech on Twitter or any other private venue.””
What I would investigate is whether the government paid any of these companies over the years.
“Dot coms like Facebook are cracking down on conservatives as an explicit response to pressure from elected government officials. Thats not the voluntary behavior of private companies. When Facebook deletes conservatives in response to threats of regulatory action from Senate Democrats, its censors are acting as government agents while engaging in viewpoint discrimination.”
Greenfield is normally spot on, but I just can’t swallow this explanation. The tech companies are not doing this because they are afraid of government regulation, they are simply doing this because they are run by partisan people who want to use their power to help the left win elections.
“Free market conservatives can argue that Facebook should have the right to discriminate against conservatives. But do they really want to argue that Senate Democrats should have the right to compel private companies to censor conservatives?”
Nobody has ever actually made this argument. Greenfield is only in this very article trying to propose Democrats are doing these things, then he creates a supposed argument in favor of them, and then denounces the imaginary people that might advance the argument he just created. This is taking the strawman argument to a whole new low.
“When dot com monopolies get so big that being banned from their platforms effectively neutralizes political activity, press activity and political speech, then theyre public forums.”
That’s actually a better argument, but it’s a legal argument that needs to be made in court, not in the court of public opinion. Writing an article isn’t going to accomplish anything, instead, those advancing this argument need to find a test case and fund the legal challenge to see if they can win in court.
“Arent they publicly owned?”
No, they are privately owned. Publicly traded, but privately owned.
Now we know why Obama gave the internet away.
Social media platforms are public access domains. As such they are obligated to abide by existing civil rights laws.
FR is specifically promoted as a site for conservative speech, much like a political party or a specific religious institution.
FB, Twitter, Google, etc are open public access platforms with policies that do not delineate a particular political, cultural, religious, or commercial platform. For them to try to do so violates their charter.
As public access forums they are in substantial violation of civil rights laws protecting first amendment rights as well as at least 5 other constitutionally delineated rights including freedom of enterprise, association, and redress. It is time to take these oligarchs to court.
No. I’m not signing on to government control over the internet. Our God-given and constitutionally guaranteed rights to freedom of speech, freedom of religion, etc, also includes freedom of choice, freedom of association.
The government has no say over the politics, religion or viewpoints of any website or association.
Facebook, et al, also enjoy the same rights. The difference is we openly declare up front that we are a forum for like-minded traditional Judeo-Christian conservatives and that liberals, trolls, disrupters, etc, will be dismissed and removed at our moderators’ convenience. The others pretend to be open to all opinion, but obviously, they are not.
Like all other areas in our free market economy, free enterprise systems and free press publications and services, it’s always buyer’s choice/buyer beware. If you don’t like the service or can’t tolerate the politics of the service, don’t subscribe, don’t read, don’t use it.
I made a similar post...so I’ll keep saying it.
A free virtual public space should be required to allow the same legal conduct as is allowed in a free physical public space. If you want to control speech then make it a paid for service.
They’re too big and too powerful, either this or they should be broken up.
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