Wednesday, November 01, 2017

Will Washington pressure Silicon Valley to quell free speech?

Conservatives have warned for years about the growing anti-speech sentiment in Washington, a trend finding all too much comfort in Silicon Valley.

Twitter recently blocked Rep. Marsha Blackburn, R-Tenn., from promoting a campaign ad. Her "crime?" Being pro-life and attacking Planned Parenthood. The congresswoman claimed she had "fought Planned Parenthood" and "stopped the sale of baby body parts," statements Twitter deemed too "inflammatory." The company worried Blackburn's pro-life stance would "evoke a strong negative reaction."

Is that now the barometer for acceptable speech? If I may offend you, I deserve to be silenced?

Blackburn was certainly not the first pro-life victim of censorship. Live Action President Lila Rose was blocked from advertising on Twitter because she dared to criticize Planned Parenthood. Her ad, which accurately claimed that Planned Parenthood performs over 320,000 abortions a year, was also labeled "inflammatory."

And of course, the abortion lobby's promotion of its services and criticism of Republicans are anything but inflammatory. A glance at Planned Parenthood's Twitter feed leaves you with the misleading message: "Stop the Trump administration's attack on birth control access," as if stores were preparing to stop selling contraception any day now. Apparently, only conservative speech is considered "inflammatory."

And who can forget Facebook's clampdown on conservative news? Company officials allegedly "filtered out stories on conservative topics from conservative sources," a blatant attempt to silence speech they oppose. Congress is now targeting Russian-bought Facebook ads in another effort to restrict purportedly undesirable speech and Facebook appears all too eager to help out.

In many ways, Silicon Valley's anti-speech activism is a betrayal of the simple idea that drove the explosive growth of the Internet as an alternative to traditional, heavily moderated platforms: More speech is in the public interest and everyone has a right to be heard. Facebook, Twitter, and other social media companies have given billions of people an unprecedented platform to speak their minds and listen (or not listen) to various perspectives — liberal or conservative. Between Facebook and Twitter, more than two billion users now use Silicon Valley's products to exercise their First Amendment rights and to freely associate with friend networks, business groups, and political organizations.

Free speech and free association are the foundation of American democracy. Silicon Valley's growing censorship of any speech is an attack on all speech — and a vibrant democracy. Whether you're a pro-life activist or a Planned Parenthood representative, the First Amendment enshrines the same right to free speech. It is not up to Facebook and Twitter officials to dictate which speech is acceptable and which isn't.

Naturally, private enterprises may control speech on their physical and digital premises. But kowtowing to the mob — whether establishment insiders or easily offended snowflakes — is the wrong approach. Such groupthink invites the very government interference the Internet should be free of.

Nor is it the government's responsibility to assume the role of George Orwell's "thinkpol." While Silicon Valley stifles public speech, elected officials increasingly abuse their power to restrict the flow of information. In the 115th Congress, dozens of bills have been introduced to expand federal intrusion into political speech. Some would grant the Federal Election Commission more expansive powers to regulate — and prosecute — campaign contributions and super PAC spending. They would intrude upon all Americans' right to choose whom they associate and speak with.

Others target the elusive specter of "foreign money" as an excuse to burden all political advertising, as if a few more TV ads endanger our democracy.

Democrats primarily lead the anti-speech brigade, but undermining the First Amendment has become bipartisan sport. The Restoring Integrity to America's Elections Act — co-sponsored by seven Republicans — would centralize the FEC's power in a single unelected political appointee. Democrat or Republican, the FEC appointee could weaponize the agency against speech he or she opposed — not unlike Facebook or Twitter.

It boils down to a simple question: Do you want someone else deciding if you get to speak? If you believe you're immune because your speech is "acceptable," while other speech is "unacceptable," then you're missing the point. No individual should ever have the right to silence another's speech with the heavy hand of Big Brother or Big Data.

In the end, the attack on free speech rests upon an inaccurate, insulting assumption: We Americans need to be coddled and shielded from "dangerous" speech. We need our government and corporate overseers to hand down approved speech, as if there is "right" or "wrong" speech. There is only speech. Agreeing or disagreeing with it is still up to us as individuals.

Without it, and without an unfettered freedom to speak even "offensively," our American democracy devolves into Orwellian authoritarianism — only with two thinkpols instead of one.



Bird of Paradise said...

The Demmac-RATS are the anti constitution party they need to just Go Away

Anonymous said...

The real problem is that both Facebook and Google are private corporations and not subject to the same protections and restrictions of government.
However, these two organisations alone now control about 60% of the total advertising market in the USA - and almost the same percentages in other countries.
They have destroyed traditional media and news outlets - but bear none of the ethical and community responsibilities of those entities.
As they have become virtual community public squares, is it time that similar rules applied as to traditional fora?

Russ Wood said...

Godfrey Elfwick: "Free speech in theory sounds like a great idea, until you realise how many people use it to say the wrong things".