This week, representatives from Facebook, Google and Twitter will join with French President Emmanuel Macron, New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern and other world leaders to launch a chilling proposal to curb free speech across the Internet. Americans should be alarmed. European elites are fast extinguishing Internet freedom on the Continent. How long will it survive in the US?
Social-media titans like Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg have more influence over our freedom than any Supreme Court justice or even the president. Convinced that their tech prowess should also grant them a wide moral berth, these Internet executives are selling out core American principles for the almighty dollar.
They will do whatever a host country demands. In China, Russia and even capitalist Singapore, Internet freedom is already dead, without a murmur of protest from Zuckerberg and others.
Standing alongside Macron on Friday, Zuckerberg said: “The question of what speech should be acceptable and what is harmful needs to be defined by regulation, by thoughtful governments.” You read that correctly — Zuckerberg’s endorsement of censorship. A total repudiation of America’s commitment to freedom of expression, which tops our Bill of Rights.
While Europe finalizes its censorship regulations, Facebook relies on leftist groups like Avaaz to finger accounts for being “divisive.” In Spain, France and Italy, Facebook is already removing accounts expressing populist views on NATO, immigration and other controversies.
Ardern, the Kiwi premier, is calling for an Internet ban on depictions of mass shootings, like her country’s Christchurch massacre, that could incite copycats. That’s reasonable. But Europe’s censorship goes further, squelching competing ideas. Facebook is glad to oblige.
Here in the US, where the Constitution prohibits government from censoring speech, Facebook is doing the dirty work, imposing its own brand of Silicon Valley PC. Recently, Facebook banned provocateurs like Alex Jones, Louis Farrakhan and Milo Yiannopoulos from its platform. Facebook subsequently even removed a posting by columnist Michelle Malkin for criticizing this censorship.
Zuckerberg is apparently ignorant of our proud tradition of protecting the speech rights of even odious groups like the neo-Nazis in Skokie, Ill.
The American Civil Liberties Union has condemned Facebook’s censorship, cautioning that “every time Facebook makes the choice to remove content, a single company is exercising an unchecked power to silence.”
The ACLU warns that conservatives are the targets now, but next time it could be different. James Esseks, ACLU director for the LGBT and HIV project, explains that censorship threatens “the movements of the future that are still striving to be heard.”
Fact is, Internet platforms are more than just private companies. They’ve become like public utilities. We are just as dependent on Facebook and Google as on the local electric company. Con Edison can’t deny us service because of our political views. Facebook shouldn’t be allowed to either.
Supreme Court Justice Louis Brandeis once explained that, under our Constitution, the only acceptable remedy for evil speech is “more speech, not enforced silence.” Government must not limit who speaks in the public square.
Google, Facebook, Twitter and others, though private sector companies, are the new public square.
Don’t count on Congress to fix the problem while Democrats control the House. They are on the side of the censors. House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerry Nadler is railing that social-media companies aren’t doing enough to “counter” what he calls “vitriolic hate messages.”
Instead, expect the courts to step in. Last fall, a conservative nonprofit called Freedom Watch sued Facebook, Google, Twitter and Apple for suppressing “politically conservative content.” It’s plausible judges will rule that allowing social-media platforms to censor political speech destroys the freedom of the public square.
Congressional Democrats are still whining about Russian meddling on the Internet. Truth is, less than .00008 (eight one hundred thousandths) percent of the total political tweets during the 2016 contest originated with Russian intelligence.
The biggest threat to a legitimate outcome in 2020 is not foreign interference. It’s left-leaning social-media giants tilting the election by silencing viewpoints they don’t like. It’s already happening.
Betsy McCaughey is a former lieutenant governor of New York.