Why We Need Anti-Censorship Legislation For Social Media, Stat

Why We Need Anti-Censorship Legislation For Social Media, Stat

Social media companies got rich with legal protections as platforms, only to turn around and behave like publishers when conservatives started using their publishing services.
Jeremy Carl
By

Louis Farrakhan remains on Twitter, while Jesse Kelly was supposedly permanently banned—then reinstated suddenly, without explanation, after Congress began to sniff around.

That pretty much tells you all you need to know about the left’s institutional biases, and why we desperately need anti-censorship free speech legislation for social media. Kelly, a Federalist senior contributor and combat veteran, and whose posts were frequently both funny and informative, was banned without warning or explanation. At the time, he was told the ban was permanent.

Yet Farrakhan, with his decades-long record of racist and anti-Semitic incitement on and off social media, is still untouched.

Kelly predicted this day would come in a Federalist article he wrote after Alex Jones was banned from Twitter. Presciently, Kelly noted that “The leftists will not stop (and did not stop) at nutty Alex Jones, because they do not think you are much different from him. You rightly think your belief in immigration enforcement is much different than his disgusting conspiracy theory about Sandy Hook. . . . [but]they just knew Jones was the weak member of the herd. They could pick him off as a test run. Next they’re coming for you.”

It’s not just individuals on social media. Entire social media platforms, including those specifically created to protect the free speech denied on services like Twitter, are now being taken off the Internet.

I first learned to make Web pages from “A Beginner’s Guide to HTML 1.0” from the National Center for Supercomputing Applications (NCSA). I first surfed the Web in 1993 with NCSA MOSAIC, the first graphical Web browser. At the time there were about 200 Web sites in the entire world. Later, I was an editor at the first magazine devoted to the Internet.

I remember thrilling in those early days to the word of legendary technologist and Internet pioneer John Gilmore, one of the founders of the Electronic Frontier Foundation, who famously said that “The Net interprets censorship as damage, and routes around it.”

The thing that was thrilling about the Internet, besides the instant access to information, was that nobody could control it—or so it seemed. Now, however, Gilmore’s dream has vanished, a victim of a left-wing tech monopoly that has discarded its freedom-loving Internet roots in favor of social justice warrioring.

Increasingly, conservatives, who long gave the issue too little attention, are taking note. A new documentary, “The Creepy Line,” featuring high production values and luminaries such as Jordan Peterson and Peter Schweitzer, discusses the various ways Google and Facebook can manipulate search results and other things subtly in ways that dramatically disadvantage conservatives and can even tip elections. Prominent scholars are doing groundbreaking research on the power of these social media companies, which is far greater than even big tech skeptics realized.

But it’s not just bannings that show the liberal double standard on Internet censorship. Let me travel back in time with you to the halcyon days of American politics of bipartisan comity and collegiality and respect. That is to say, the early days of the Brett Kavanaugh hearings, where a mere trifle such as an accusation of neo-Nazism against a conservative Mexican-American of partially Jewish origin could still be termed by respected observers “The craziest liberal freakout of all time.”

The incident in question involved Zina Bash, a former Kavanaugh clerk, who, according to various breathless online voices on the left, had flashed a white power hand signal on TV during Kavanaugh’s hearings. Even after Bash’s background was revealed, the liberal lunacy continued, including posts from Twitter accounts with tens or hundreds of thousands for followers. On Facebook, even after being thoroughly debunked, the conspiracy theory was still being featured by The People for Bernie Sanders (1.4 million Facebook followers) and Occupy Democrats (7.5 million followers), among many other left-wing sites.

Despite their blatant conspiracy-mongering and slander, these accounts remain up—just as Farrakhan’s account is still up although at the time the Kavanaugh hearings began, his pinned tweet was “Thoroughly and completely unmasking the Satanic Jew and the Synagogue of Satan.” Another Twitter post of his, still live, compares Jews to termites.

The utter and continuing failure of social media to self-police how they treat the right was underscored that same week when Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey and Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg testified before Congress about ongoing social media censorship of conservatives. On the eve of the testimony, Facebook was busy placing misleading distractions in a Washington Post owned by Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos. In an op-ed there, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg attempted to frame social media’s problems as primarily the result of foreign interference.

To the extent that fake accounts and foreign bots are on the social media services, of course they should be taken down. But the far bigger question, and one Zuckerberg studiously avoided, is what to do with controversial but genuine content.

In Facebook and Twitter’s case, their approach has been all too-often to censor conservative or right-wing content, or to use fact-checkers composed of left-wing groups and compliant GOP establishment lapdogs to be arbiters of truth, with those not passing establishment muster losing 80 percent of their traffic, according to Zuckerberg’s own estimates.

In his testimony, Dorsey referred repeatedly to Twitter as the “digital public square,” an odd formulation given that the public square is generally seen to be a place where, legally, free speech should reign, even if that public square is privately owned (see, for example, the Supreme Court case Marsh v. Alabama)

Contra Zuckerberg, Sandberg, and Dorsey, the problem from social media is not that people are seeing things they don’t want to see, it’s that they are not seeing things they do want to see—particularly if those things are conservative and “controversial.” Now House Republicans are probing whether Dorsey lied in his congressional testimony about that platform’s treatment of conservatives, a show of spine that has been long overdue.

What is needed is an end to the bans, which will only punish the right, and a return to free speech on social media. This could be accomplished quite effectively with a modest number of user-controlled, rather than big-tech controlled, content filters.

But that will not happen unless the government, through Congress and the courts, demand the big tech monopolies and oligopolies stop their reign of politically biased censorship, one which sees conservatives attacked with impunity but liberals getting off scot-free or even lauded for harassment. Social media companies got rich with legal protections that proclaimed them only to be dumb platforms, only to turn around and behave like publishers when conservatives started using their platform to share information that they didn’t approve of.

A number of articles on conservative Web sites, almost invariably written by people with little actual experience in Silicon Valley, argue that we cannot have “government regulating the Internet.” But legislation to demand First Amendment protections for speech on social media, where it is threatened by monopolies and oligopolies, is a far different beast than legislation that attempts to stifle First Amendment protections.

For “conservatives” who object to a government role in upholding our freedoms, consider William F. Buckley’s observation that one should not morally equate a man who pushes little old ladies out of the path of a hurtling bus from those pushing them into the path of a hurtling bus on the grounds that both men are pushing around little old ladies. Today, Buckley’s proverbial bus is owned by Facebook, Google, and Twitter. If more conservatives don’t wise up and start defending Americans’ free speech rights, rights currently only extended to our political opponents, we’re going to get run over.

Jeremy Carl, who began his tech career the earliest days of the Web, is a research fellow at the Hoover Institution, Stanford University.

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