May 6, 2021

Free Speech Is a Value Not Just a Right

In recent days, some of the nation’s most powerful corporations have engaged in a concerted effort, at the behest of a major political party, to limit the speech of millions of Americans who engaged in wrongthink. First, Twitter permanently banned the sitting president. As is its right. And when millions of his fans left and bolstered Parler, a different platform, Apple, Google and Amazon went ahead and shut it down as well.

But if you say that targeted deplatforming, though not Stalinist, is troubling, the same people who want to compel everyone to buy state-mandated health insurance, who want to dictate how corporations compensate their employees, who want to force nuns to buy abortifacients and who want to destroy the lives of bakers and florists who run businesses according to long-held religious beliefs will vigorously defend the value of free-association rights that allow corporations to act this way. So I’m pretty skeptical that most of these people are genuine champions of individual market choices, and aren’t just super excited about silencing people.

The violent rioting at Capitol Hill last Wednesday by a few hundred seditious MAGA yahoos spurred on by the president — sometimes referred to as a “coup,” as if the Viking Helmet Dude had nearly grabbed dictatorial powers — has given lots of people the pretext to embrace censorship, as they eagerly, and quite cynically, assign collective guilt.

Is “censorship” the right word? I’m not sure. I am sure that the inclination to shut people up is an illiberal one. Just as the defense of speech is a liberal virtue, whether the right is codified in law or not. Once dominant corporate and cultural elites — in this case, a group of Big Tech CEOs and employees who are highly susceptible to political pressure — collude to decide how people are allowed to interact, they engage, functionally, in censorship. And once we normalize the idea that corporations have an extrajudicial duty to limit speech in the name of “safety” — a rationalization as old as censorship itself — the spirit of the First Amendment is being corroded. The real thing is soon to follow.

Twitter claims that it is merely banning “incitement,” by which it means conspiratorial contentions about the 2020 election being stolen. This, of course, is a new standard, since well-known personalities across Twitter have spread similar conspiracies about the 2016 election — not to mention downplaying the murder, arson and billions of dollars of damage caused by leftist rioters last summer.

Perhaps we could take Twitter’s claim that it is upholding the sanctity of democracy more seriously if it didn’t host Chinese Communist officials who treat slave ownership as a social good or anti-Semitic Iranian officials who regularly use exterminationist rhetoric. I’d rather we just hear everyone, and mock, stigmatize, debunk and undermine bad actors.

Let’s not forget that the liberal conceptions of hate speech and incitement are quite expansive. “White supremacists,” as you’ve surely noticed, lurk behind every tax cut. How long before tech companies start infringing on other political speech that upsets liberals?

Perhaps Amazon has a point about Parler and its lack of moderation. Pointing to a few threatening messages on that platform, though, isn’t wholly convincing, considering one could do the same on Twitter, where arbitrarily enforced rules mean banning conservatives who think the election is stolen but not New York Times columnists who argue that rioting isn’t violence.

This is the part of the column where I concede that I have no solution. Overturning Section 230 would do nothing to foster more speech or compel platforms to act in an unbiased manner. What it would do is empower government, in effect, to make moderation decisions.

So, I remain one of those naive people who still believes that conservatives need to build their own news organizations and platforms. But if Amazon and Google — companies, incidentally, that gained their market share and power acting as disinterested corporate entities — now do the bidding of one political party and dictate speech codes … well, that’s not going to be easy.

Then again, treating liability protections for social media platforms with more reverence than the underlying values of free expression is its own shortsightedness. It’s true that the First Amendment doesn’t guarantee anyone a Twitter account. Everyone is aware, I assume, that Section 230 isn’t in the Constitution, either?

Indeed, the marketplace can act in ways that are antithetical to the ideals of a nation. Much of this anti-speech crusade began in 2016, when the media began blaming “fake news” and social media ads — not their own obsession — for Trump’s victory. Since then, for many, the mission has been to constrict discourse and to inhibit interactions among MAGA supporters by shaming and pressuring corporations that host them. The same people now cheer on what can be described as plutocratic collusion. That doesn’t bode well for long-term health of the First Amendment.

David Harsanyi is a senior writer at National Review and the author of the book “First Freedom: A Ride Through America’s Enduring History With the Gun.” To read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate webpage at www.creators.com.

COPYRIGHT 2020 CREATORS.COM

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15 Responses

    1. I always wondered what the difference between a Nazi and a Communist was??? Well I think I figured it out. Nazis kill Jews, and Communists kill Christians. I think that they are working together, because Antifa and BLM kill Jews and Christians.

      By killing Jews and Christians, they think that they are being inclusive, that’s what Hitler told them. HahaHaheeheehehehehehe!!!!!

  1. First, President Trump did not incite any riot. He encourage his supporters to be in Washington DC on the 6th of January. He plainly sated that there should be NO VIOLENCE and NO RIOTING. He stated to abide by law aqnd order. Secondly, the people that have been arrested for the violence and destruction of property have been Democrats. there was a co-ordinated plan by Antifa and BLM to infiltrated the peaceful protesters. They dressed s President Trump supporters so that he would be blamed.

    1. to Bill Dorries: AND EVERYONE ON HERE: WHENEVER YOU SEE WRITERS LIKE THIS PERPETUATING ANIMOSITY TOWARDS PRESIDENT TRUMP, **** WRITE TO THEM*****.

      I’m so fed up with it and have just written to this company, referencing this article, the author, and the date and told them to JUST STOP IT. The Damn Dems are messing up this country and they get away with almost everything they do. NO REFERENCE IN HERE TO ALL THE RIOTS AND SMALL BUSINESSES THAT WERE RUINED by the rioters who were totally out of control earlier in the year.

      1. The rioters were not out of control, they were being told what to do by the democrats. all of the damage that was done was done under the direction of the democratic party, that was paying these people to destroy property and even kill people. The DNC has been using these groups like a private army to instill fear in the population, both conservative and liberal, to keep control.

  2. Twitter and Facebook shares have both dropped . ALL conservatives should DELETE Facebook , Twitter , Instagram , and google . These companies DO NOT like you , so quit making them rich . Hit them where it counts , thier pocketbook . They won’t delete us ,,,, we’ll delete them . DELETE THEM NOW !!!!

  3. the riots at the capitol were definitely a “black flag operation.” what we will need in the future is true investigative journalism into the elections stolen in 2020 and a conservative alternative to the fascists silencing conservatives on the internet. part of the reason for shut-downs this year was to prevent people speaking to each other. it is an orwellian dystopia we are living in right now. and a demented dimwit is about to be president. fortunately his handlers will tell him what to do and say.

  4. I agree with Bill Dories Sr. This was not President Trump’s doing. It was totally the leftists, Antifa, and BLM. Also agree with Billy Wilson. There will be a communist takeover. Or maybe the Muslim takeover. Why are so many of them all of a sudden being brought to the congress and higher. One will be VP of the US. How is this possible? Even if she isn’t Muslim, she is an Obama product. Has anyone checked out her Birth Certificate? How about Cortez? We are just getting closer and closer to an uprising in this country, and the left has all the money to hire as many of them as they want. This is what I am most afraid of. Losing our country to Communisim and or Muslimism. Or Both.

    1. Get ready for the second coming of Christ…all these things are leading to the end times. Just make sure you are ready!

  5. Pelosi is so frustrated with Trump, because she can’t beat him. So she thinks she can impeach him, that is just admitting that she lost. Just like she did with the previous impeachment. She had to have Mike Bloomberg buy off the jury so to speak, he paid members of the house to impeach Trump. So the way I see it Pelosi lost that one too. Not to mention that it is illegal to bribe congressmen, so that means that Bloomberg is a criminal, and the congressmen are guilty of accepting bribes, also illegal. So Pelosi is just a sore loser.
    Pelosi is mad at Trump that she is keeping a Chinese spy on the house intelligence committee. How low can you go Pelosi.

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