Tech Lords and Freedom of Speech

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A guest post by commenter John By Any Other Name:

 

 

I’m sure you’ve seen a bit on tech companies censoring content they don’t agree with (even the suggestion that the Vatican may try to do something about Catholic news/bloggers; see here: http://wdtprs.com/blog/2018/10/more-on-synod2018-walking-together-document-146/).  This one, to me, seems noteworthy with respect to American social media:

https://www.breitbart.com/tech/2018/10/29/christian-news-site-lifesite-blackhosted-by-web-host/

“De-platforming” of conservative voices has generally had a veneer, however thin, of some legitimately-intended-while-poorly-thought-out rationalization, involving Milo Yiannopoulos, Alex Jones, and the Daily Stormer.  Those examples represent a range of voices that is variously on the edge or well outside of what I’d consider “deserves to be heard” in the public square.  However, those early forays appear to have been the vanguard of subsequent actions.

Notably, Gab (a social media alternative that’s dedicated to free speech) recently came under de-platforming-type actions due to the use of Gab by various white supremacist groups and related ilk.  While I certainly can’t find anything redeemable about permitting anti-Semitic chatter, I think that the hypocrisy of platforms like Twitter to remove nutjobs like these (which then drives them to Gab…and when Gab is down, they’ll find another dark corner of the internet, while the disease of this thought is never eradicated…), and yet allow other hate speech such as what Farrakhan spouted off about charges of anti-Antisemitism leveled at him (https://www.foxnews.com/tech/louis-farrakhan-wont-be-suspended-by-twitter-despite-antisemitic-tweet) needs to be called out repeatedly.

Now, it’s LifeSiteNews’ turn.

I have no illusion that the social justice warriors (SJWs) and the tech companies have enough foresight to see what might happen if their fictional boogeyman, The Authoritarian Conservative, were to come into control of their precious platforms and flip the tables on them.  I hear from some “conservatives” that “what-about-ism” is an invalid exercise in political analysis, despite how clearly it can be used to separate feelings from solid principles.  I’ve rarely seen any attempt to remain principled by SJWs individually, and when they do, the mob casts them out.

Nor do I have any illusion that these companies will police themselves fairly.  Rather, I think they need to come down firmly and with the appropriate legal or regulatory nudge on one side or the other of the blade they’ve been dancing on: the tech companies are either “publishers” or “platforms” (https://www.redstate.com/setonmotley/2018/10/22/big-tech%e2%80%99s-lying-legal-two-step-defend-censorship-conservatives/).  They cannot reap the positive benefits of both designations at the same time.  Or, more plainly: Twitter is either a “platform” which is immune to any legal ramification of content their users transmit, per section 230 of the Communications Decency Act of 1996, with the concomitant understanding that they would be impartial channels of communication, or they are a “publisher” which has control over its content and has the authority and duty to remove content since they are subject to the standard legal exposure of libel, copyright, and other similar laws.

In classic “I Am Not A Lawyer” analysis, it’s probably simple enough to state that any tech company which has a “Terms of Service” or “Terms of Conduct” or any of the numerous synonyms (see https://pjmedia.com/trending/tech-community-outraged-after-sqlite-founder-adopts-christian-code-of-conduct/ for an interesting tangent on this topic) should immediately be precluded from the protections of section 230 of the CDA.  Then, Twitter and the like will have to make a choice: do they want the SJW mob to attack them for being an open platform yet remain free from any legal risk?  Or is it better that they appease the SJW mob by removing content that the SJWs deem unacceptable, but then become a publisher and are therefore legally liable for any time a favored leftist makes a comment that the SJWs conveniently ignore in the swarm of electronic torches and pitchforks?

Because if this or some similar type of choice is not forced upon tech companies (I’m not certain if extending First Amendment protections to companies is a wise step long-term…), LifeSite will most certainly not be the last company that experiences this type of silencing.  And it’s not something that isn’t predictable:

“Tyranny in democratic republics does not proceed in the same way, however. It ignores the body and goes straight for the soul. The master no longer says: You will think as I do or die. He says: You are free not to think as I do. You may keep your life, your property, and everything else. But from this day forth you shall be as a stranger among us. You will retain your civic privileges, but they will be of no use to you. For if you seek the votes of your fellow citizens, they will withhold them, and if you seek only their esteem, they will feign to refuse even that. You will remain among men, but you will forfeit your rights to humanity. When you approach your fellow creatures, they will shun you as one who is impure. And even those who believe in your innocence will abandon you, lest they, too, be shunned in turn. Go in peace, I will not take your life, but the life I leave you with is worse than death.”
–Alexis de Tocqueville, Democracy in America (volume 1, part 2, chapter 7)

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3 Comments

  1. They’re paying fees to these webhosting companies. It should be incorporated into commercial law in the states in question that they at least receive notice before service is terminated.

    You never get answers in these cases. Is this a freebooting set of employees or is the company being squeezed by some outside actor? There has definitely been collusion by tech companies in some cases. Where are the anti-trust suits?

  2. “You never get answers in these cases.” Or the “answers” are of the “mistakes were made” variety, usually placing the blame on an automated system or an anonymous low-level employee.

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