Why The Risk To Free Speech Abruptly Appears A lot Larger

What do Donald Trump, who won the 2016 presidency, have in common with the Capitol protests on January 6th, and Joe Biden with missing his Covid-19 vaccination goal on July 4th?

According to many leftist politicians and media experts today, Facebook and social media in general are responsible for all three. Google “Democrats Blame Facebook” and you’ll see what I mean.

On the other end of the spectrum, Republicans are accusing social media of censoring their ideas because of a perceived anti-conservative bias. Unfortunately, former President Trump’s ban on all social media did not help alleviate these concerns.

Lots of Americans no doubt long for simpler days when people log into Facebook to make old friends and play FarmVille and Mafia Wars, but I digress.

However, there is one thing that both left and right agree on. Social media is a major battleground in shaping America’s political landscape. 72 percent of voting age Americans actively use some form of social media, while 69 percent of Americans in the same group use Facebook alone, according to Socialbakers. Overall, 82 percent of the population in the United States had a social network profile, equivalent to 223 million US social media users in 2020.

There is no question that social media companies and their platforms have incredible power and influence, especially in journalism and the media. At the beginning of the pandemic, the New York Post published a comment suggesting that the coronavirus may have leaked from a laboratory. Facebook stepped in, claiming that this opinion was “false information”.

Over a year later, Facebook decided that the laboratory leak hypothesis was not conspiratorial and allowed it to share stories and opinions on the matter.

The New York Post also published a story about Hunter Biden’s emails prior to the last election. In response, Twitter and Facebook both limited the reach of the story and eventually banned the NY Post’s Twitter account for about two weeks before reversing their decision. The New York Post is not a conspiratorial no-name blog. The newspaper was founded by Alexander Hamilton in 1801 and has more than 2.2 million Twitter followers and more than 4.4 million Facebook followers.

Later, ahead of the Senate Judiciary Committee hearing on social media censorship and repression during the 2020 election, Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey admitted that censoring the Hunter Biden story was a mistake.

In both cases, social media companies have proven to be the arbiter of the truth, and in both cases their decisions have been proven wrong.

Social media is also incredibly effective for amplifying individual voices and coordinating collective action. Therefore, totalitarian governments like China severely restrict social media and the internet. This is also the reason why Cuba switched off the internet completely in response to anti-government protests.

But that could never happen here in the United States, could it?

Unfortunately, it cannot be ruled out that an American tech company could view censorship as a good business model, be it for profit or self-preservation reasons. A prime example of this is Google and the development of their heavily censored Chinese search engine called “Project Dragonfly”. After The Intercept published the story, Google eventually canceled it due to massive pressure from staff and even from Congress.

There is a demand that big tech and big government work even more closely together.

The NSA wants Big Tech to add “back doors” to the encryption technology used by various technology companies. Others openly praise China’s internet censorship and claim that the Western model of free speech is out of date compared to China’s.

When governments and private companies begin to act together and move in lockstep, we risk making George Orwell’s 1984 a reality. There’s a name for it, a term we’ve heard from the rooftops throughout Donald Trump’s tenure in politics.


But don’t believe me, we hear from Benito Mussolini himself, who stated the following in his 1927 labor charter:

“The state only intervenes when private initiative is absent or insufficient, or when the state’s political interests are involved. Such intervention can take the form of control, assistance, or direct management. ”(Emphasis added)

Many people in government on both sides of the political corridor today believe that the political interests of the state are at stake when it comes to social media. President Trump recently sued Big Tech, claiming that its removal from social media platforms amounted to “government action”.

Meanwhile, the White House surprisingly admitted that it “flagged problematic posts for Facebook that spread disinformation” – Biden claims Facebook was downright “killing people” – and has “identified about 12 people who took 65% of the anti-vaccine.” -Produce information “. ”

Let me repeat this point. The government has identified 12 people it believes are problematic and reported them to a private company, who they classified as “misinformation”.

This follows on Facebook testing new “anti-extremism” warnings, informing users that they may have been exposed to “extremist” content, while also asking if they are worried about a friend who may become an extremist . It is no accident that these pop-up warnings come after Biden’s attorney general testified that “white supremacists are the most serious domestic terrorist threat facing the United States.”

In addition, the Biden government is considering partnering with private companies to monitor “extremist chatter” online. The definition of “extremism” and who is allowed to define it is a question that should concern everyone.

While private companies should be free to enforce their terms of service, it appears that they are being forced and pressured to bow to the will of the government. There is still a wall, albeit a fragile one, between big tech and US intelligence. Freedom of expression as we know it depends on this wall posture.

So what are some of the answers? First, let me identify what I don’t see as solutions.

  1. I’m not in favor of the government regulating social media or big tech in general any further. Increased regulation tends to stifle competition and cement the position of larger companies in the market.
  2. Nor do I advocate a “fairness doctrine” such as that introduced by the FCC in 1949 and abolished in 1987.

On the social media front, the answer to this problem should not come through state legislation or regulation, but rather through the creation of a free market and environment for free expression that promotes competition and lowers barriers to entry; however, that will not be enough.

As individuals, we need to detach ourselves from the centralized nature of social media and return to a decentralized model, much like what the internet looked like in its early days.

The internet of the past was mostly made up of individual websites or blogs freed from the constraints of social media. We’re so used to logging into Facebook as a one-stop shop for our content or looking for an app in the Apple or Google app stores that we forget we still have a web browser on our phone.

Companies like Substack are also emerging to have independent writers and journalists publish their content and get paid for it (outside the censoring eye of social networks). And then there are protocols like LBRY, a blockchain-based file sharing and payments network that powers decentralized platforms, mostly social networks and video platforms. The creators of LBRY also run Odysee, a video sharing website that uses the network.

Although the content on Odyssey is moderated to remove videos that promote violence and terrorism, it is a model of what a “decentralized” Internet might look like.

The First Amendment says that Congress cannot pass legislation that restricts freedom of speech. As we have learned, private companies are not required. However, they can (and should) play an essential role in creating a culture that reinvigorates the spirit of the First Amendment.

James Madison’s original draft of the First Amendment, which was much more descriptive overall than the one that landed on the Bill of Rights, gives a little more insight into his thoughts on the subject. It reads in part:

“The people’s right to speak, write or publish their feelings must not be deprived or restricted …”

Doesn’t that sound like a modern Facebook post?

The digital newsfeed has replaced the public space, and Big Tech, like it or not, has a responsibility to facilitate the free exchange of ideas.

It is also worth noting that there is no qualifier in both the original and final versions of the First Amendment to rule out “misinformation”. The founders understood that unpopular opinions and information are the number one type of vulnerable speech. So much so that many wrote under pseudonyms for their safety.

The digital newsfeed has replaced the public space, and Big Tech, like it or not, has a responsibility to facilitate the free exchange of ideas.

Ultimately, American social media companies base their entire business model on monetizing individual self-presentation. They can and should serve as advocates of free speech, especially when faced with government pressure.

Adam Johnston

Adam Johnston is a libertarian-conservative writer and contributor to freethepeople.org (@FreeThePeople)

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