The Escalation of the Progressive Attack on Speech

The progressive assault on speech is entering a new and more sinister phase, advancing beyond censorship by social media companies and crossing the line into government censorship. This new phase is aptly characterized in a January article found in Defense One, entitled “Regulate Social Media Companies.” The article commingles many different errant ideas, but its most disturbing attribute is the reckless way in which various sorts of speech formerly considered to be free are suddenly judged to be subject to progressive discipline. Take the very first sentence, for example:

“The events of January 6 showed existing approaches to quell disinformation and incitements to violence on social media platforms have failed, badly.”

[1]

The first thing to be noted in this sentence is the mischaracterization of the origins of the January 6th Capitol protests and the dismissal of the legitimate concerns with election fraud held by much of the U. S. electorate. But beyond that bit of chicanery, of greater concern is the underlying mindset displayed here, which conflates both disinformation and incitements to violence as examples of prohibited speech. While incitement to violence is clearly prohibited in the U. S., disinformation is nothing of the sort. Terms like disinformation suffer from a critical malady, which is that someone must define them for any given issue. And since every issue has at least two sides, then one side’s definition is not by itself sufficient. All sides must be represented in the free and public exchange of views.

The authors blithely continue to inflate the range of prohibited expression in the second sentence:

“ . . . claims that U.S. tech companies can self-regulate and moderate dangerous content comprehensively should be regarded with extreme skepticism.”

[1]

So now a new prohibited category appears, something called “dangerous content.” It is not defined, nor is any justification provided as to why social media companies should be the arbiters of dangerous content, whether or not they have that capability. The lexicon of troubling communications expands again, in the third sentence, with identification of a new terror, “misinformation:”

“. . . Twitter’s recent launch of Birdwatch, a crowd-sourcing forum to combat misinformation, is a welcome measure but at best a partial and imperfect solution to a far more systemic problem.”

[1]

And the article continues with even more instances of perilous speech, involving such awful consequences as political polarization, radicalization, false narratives, and of course, that most popular fault of which conservatives are guilty, “extremism.”

However, all such general characterizations are dependent upon individual biases and perspectives, and are therefore are not objective means for the determination of what should be prohibited. Here is what the Supreme Court says about prohibited speech:

“Those few categories of speech that the government can regulate or punish-for instance, fraud, defamation, or incitement – are well established within our constitutional tradition. . . Aside from these and a few other narrow exceptions, it is a fundamental principle of the First Amendment that the government may not punish or suppress speech based on disapproval of the ideas or perspectives the speech conveys. . . .”

[2]

Social media is by definition a private, not a public, space, and is therefore subject to the whims of the owner of that property. While censorship on social media has indeed been disastrous for conservatives, solutions exist and should be pursued. These include the implementation of anti-trust legislation, the striking of 47 US 230, and regulation of the Google search engine index, which, as proposed by Dr. Robert Epstein before the Senate Judiciary Committee in July 2019, would remediate the unfair market dominance of Google and its biased search engine results. [3] More recently, Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas, in his April 2021 concurring opinion for BIDEN v. KNIGHT FIRST AMENDMENT INSTITUTE AT COLUMBIA UNIV., explored alternatives for addressing this issue, specifically considering the possibility that legal precedents for common carriers and public accommodations might be applied to social media corporations. [4]

But the push to insinuate the government into social media censorship must be recognized for exactly what it is: a concerted attack on the First Amendment. Consider this remarkable pair of sentences from the Defense One article:

“These reforms must extend beyond stronger antitrust regulation and enforcement against Big Tech companies, which are worthwhile, but do little to restructure fundamentally how social media platforms operate. New rules must be introduced for the algorithms that decide what users see and for the data these companies collect for themselves . . .”

[1]

New rules must be introduced for the algorithms that decide what users see . . .” That sentence right there should send a chill up our collective spines. We the people are no longer considered to be competent enough to assess social media content for ourselves. Instead, we must now rely on the benevolent oversight of the government to take care of our sensitive psyches. The thought process inherent in that sentence is anathema to the American way of life.

The authors attempt to justify this new government intrusion by declaring that right wing terrorism is an urgent threat which is exacerbated by the freedoom available on social media platforms. This claim is made without any reference to evidence of such terrorism – the authors seem to think that the Capitol protests of January 6th constitute irrefutable evidence of impending right wing white nationalist terrorist conspiracies, while they studiously avoid any reference to the left wing protests which caused significant upheaval, destruction, and death throughout the United States in 2020. [5] In fact, the specter of right wing terrorism has become progressive dogma, routinely perpetuated by biased “research.” [6]

Unfortunately, the crusade to firmly control speech in the United States is not limited to a couple of fringe academics. A February article published in the New York Times recommended creation of a government “reality czar” to throttle any information thought to be out of line: [emphases added]

“Several experts I spoke with recommended that the Biden administration put together a cross-agency task force to tackle disinformation and domestic extremism, which would be led by something like a “reality czar.”

“This task force could also meet regularly with tech platforms, and push for structural changes that could help those companies tackle their own extremism and misinformation problems.”

“Several experts recommended that the Biden administration push for much more transparency into the inner workings of the black box algorithms that Twitter, Facebook, YouTube and other major platforms use to rank feeds, recommend content and usher users into private groups, many of which have been responsible for amplifying conspiracy theories and extremist views.”

“The experts I spoke with warned that tech platforms alone couldn’t bring back the millions of already radicalized Americans, nor is teaching media literacy a silver bullet to prevent dangerous ideas from taking hold.”

[7]

This is nothing less than a prescription for the government’s active involvement in the inner workings of private media companies to control public thought. The arrogance, elitism, and tyrannical mindset exhibited here, expressed by nameless “experts,” is astounding. The message is clear: if you don’t agree with progressive thought, you are an extremist, and you are dangerous, and your mind needs to be repaired, and the government will help you with your illness.

This accelerated attack has also now been taken up by members of Congress. A recent letter from Senator Blumenthal to Twitter illustrates the progressive proclivity to quash views which don’t align with the approved canon of conventional liberal wisdom. Consider these threatening questions from Senator Blumenthal questioning Twitter for failing to censor the so-called dreaded “anti-vaxxers:”

“What specific steps has Twitter taken to enforce its policies against ‘antivax’ groups, content, and accounts since its announcement that it would remove false claims about COVID-19 vaccines, including the removal or demotion of groups and accounts?”

“How does Twitter enforce its COVID-19 policies against accounts that focus on creating ‘vaccine hesitancy,’ such as those systemically cherry picking or distorting information, or exploiting anecdotal cases to deter vaccinations?”

“Why has Twitter decided to label COVID-19 vaccine misinformation, unlike Facebook, which determined it is more effective and appropriate to remove such content and accounts?”

[8]

This effort by members of Congress to strong-arm social media companies is particularly annoying due to its blatant duplicity. Senator Blumenthal, for example, certainly cannot have forgotten that the Communications Decency Act of 1996 was intended to relieve social media of responsibility for policing social media content:

“No provider or user of an interactive computer service shall be treated as the publisher or speaker of any information provided by another information content provider.”

[9]

The senator is perfectly content with this law just as it is, because it has provided social media companies the virtually unfettered ability to crush conservative thought. Yet he is angry because there are many out there in the country who don’t agree with him, as in this case regarding the safety of the vaccines. Worse than that, to his mind, is the fact that despite social media censorship those obstinate dissenters out there are still able to somehow speak their minds. And that is unacceptable – he wants to obliterate those voices from the public forum. This sort of intolerance is bad enough when expressed by your every day run of the mill elitist in the media – but it is far more menacing when expounded by a senator.

Democrat Congressmen Anna Eshoo and Jerry McNerny have used the same sort of pressure against cable carriers in a recent letter:

“Our country’s public discourse is plagued by misinformation, disinformation, conspiracy theories, and lies. These phenomena undergird the radicalization of seditious individuals who committed acts of insurrection on January 6, and it contributes to a growing distrust of public health measures necessary to crush the pandemic. We are concerned about the role AT&T plays in disseminating misinformation to millions . . . of its subscribers, and we write to you today to request additional information about what actions AT&T is taking to address these issues. . . . “

[10]

The Congressmen continue with their own set of questions designed to browbeat AT&T for failing to discriminate against content which they disapprove, ignoring the fact that cable carriers are generally not obligated to regulate content:

“Speech on cable systems and online video and radio delivery systems is fully protected speech the regulation of which is subject to strict scrutiny.”

[11]

These Congressmen know that strict scrutiny requires that content may be limited only if the government can show a “compelling interest” and the limitation is the “least restrictive” necessary to support that interest. Therefore, a compelling interest based solely on progressive disapproval is not likely to be convincing. The Court has consistently decided that more rather than less speech is the correct way to adjudicate truth in the public forum:

“A law that can be directed against speech found offensive to some portion of the public can be turned against minority and dissenting views to the detriment of all. The First Amendment does not entrust that power to the government’s benevolence. Instead, our reliance must be the substantial safeguards of free and open discussion in a democratic society.”

[2]

The key words here, “free and open discussion in a democratic society,” stand in stark contrast to Democrat actions designed to strangle free expression on social and other media. We can only hope that the Court will continue to maintain its dedication to free and open discussion, and not succumb to the baleful alarms raised by the left.

At a House Energy and Commerce Subcommitte hearing on March 25th, Democrat representatives were even more heavy-handed in their threats to compel content regulation by social media, as demonstrated by Representative Frank Pallone, D – N. J.:

“It is now painfully clear that neither the market nor public pressure will force these social media companies to take the aggressive action they need to take to eliminate this information and extremism from their platforms,” he said. “Therefore, it’s time for Congress … to legislate and realign these companies’ incentives.”

[12]

The country is entering a new phase in the fight for liberty. The extensive censorship of conservative views by social media has already contributed significantly to the devastating defeats suffered by conservatives, who have failed as yet to develop effective counters to this censorship. And now the Democrat federal government is beginning the process to take control of social media content. It is not unreasonable to believe that the field of battle will soon move beyond social media to all internet websites, and from there, to all media.

It may seem like a daunting challenge, with much of the Federal Government and the majority of societal elites moving aggressively toward weakening the First Amendment. Until recently, conservatives have tended to believe that a conservative Supreme Court would be able to overcome the depredations of a progressive Executive and Legislature, and make things right via jurisprudence. However, with the leftward drift of Chief Justice John Roberts, [13] and the Court’s refusal to hear the Pennsylvania 2020 election fraud cases, [14] it is becoming apparent that the Court cannot be considered a reliable guarantor of conservative values. But one method for engaging in this fight which has not yet been fully explored by conservatives involves harnessing the power of state legislatures and executives. In the state arena there are now several positive indications of the exercise of power in the interest of liberty. In Florida, for example, the nonsensical Covid-19 mask mandate guidelines of the federal medical establishment are being rescinded. [15,16] In Arizona, the legislature is proceeding with a forensic audit of the 2020 election notwithstanding widespread opposition and the disgraceful avoidance of this issue by the Supreme Court. [17] And now there are multiple states working to pass new laws designed to prevent the sort of massive fraud which occurred in the last election. [18]

There is no reason for this violation of our liberty to be fought only on the federal level. States should fight tooth and nail to encourage freedom on the internet, by all means possible, within their boundaries. That way, the descending oppression of the left will not dim the light of free speech in every state.

References.

1. Ramjee, Divya and Kania, Elsa B. “Regulate Social Media Companies. Defense One. January 27, 2021. https://www.defenseone.com/ideas/2021/01/regulate-social-media-companies/171656/

2. U. S. Supreme Court. 2017. Matal v. Tam, 582 U. S. ___. https://www.law.cornell.edu/supremecourt/text/15-1293

3. U.S. Congress. Senate. Senate Judiciary Subcommittee on the Constitution. Google and Censorship through Search Engines. 116th Cong., 1st sess., July 16, 2019. https://www.judiciary.senate.gov/imo/media/doc/Epstein%20Testimony.pdf

4. U. S. Supreme Court. 2021. Biden v. Knight First Amendment Institute At Columbia Univ., Concurrence. 593 U. S. __ (2021). https://www.law.cornell.edu/supremecourt/text/20-197

5. Zilber, Ariel. “REVEALED: Widespread vandalism and looting during BLM protests will cost the insurance $2 BILLION after violence erupted in 140 cities in the wake of George Floyd’s death.” Daily Mail. 16 September, 2020. https://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-8740609/Rioting-140-cities-George-Floyds-death-cost-insurance-industry-2-BILLION.html

6. Newsome, Bruce. “The myth of overwhelming right-wing terrorism.” The Critic. 26 November, 2020. https://thecritic.co.uk/the-myth-of-overwhelming-right-wing-terrorism/

7. Roose, Kevin. “How the Biden Administration Can Help Solve Our Reality Crisis.” The New York Times. February 2, 2021. https://www.nytimes.com/2021/02/02/technology/biden-reality-crisis-misinformation.html

8. Blumenthal, Richard. Richard Blumenthal to Jack Dorsey, February 18, 2021. https://www.blumenthal.senate.gov/imo/media/doc/2021.02.18%20-%20Twitter%20Antivax%20and%20Moms.pdf

9. Communications Decency Act , U. S. Code 47 (1996) Section 230 https://codes.findlaw.com/us/title-47-telecommunications/47-usc-sect-230.html

10. Eshoo, Anna G. and McNerny, Jerry. Anna G. Eshoo and Jerry McNerny to John T. Stankey, February 22, 2021. https://eshoo.house.gov/sites/eshoo.house.gov/files/Eshoo-McNerney-TV-Misinfo%20Letters-2.22.21.pdf

11. U. S. Library of Congress. Congressional Research Service. Freedom of Speech and Press: Exceptions to the First Amendment, by Kathleen Ruane. 95-815. 2014. https://fas.org/sgp/crs/misc/95-815.pdf

12. Blair, Douglas. “When Government Demands Social Media Censorship, Americans of All Political Beliefs Lose” The Daily Signal. April 8, 2021. https://www.dailysignal.com/2021/04/08/when-government-demands-social-media-censorship-americans-of-all-political-beliefs-lose/

13. Jacobs, Emily. “Pence blasts Chief Justice Roberts as ‘disappointment to conservatives.’” New York Post. August 6, 2020. https://nypost.com/2020/08/06/pence-blasts-chief-justice-roberts-as-disappointment/

14. Pavlich, Katie. “Justice Thomas: SCOTUS Refusal to Hear Pennsylvania Election Cases Is ‘Inexplicable.’” Townhall. 22 February, 2021. https://townhall.com/tipsheet/katiepavlich/2021/02/22/three-supreme-court-justices-believe-pennsylvania-election-case-should-be-review-n2585115

15. Newton, Lawrence. “Misguided Guidance: The Failure of the U. S. Response to the China Virus.” The Progressive Pandemic. January 27, 2021. https://theprogressivepandemic.com/2021/01/27/misguided-guidance-the-failure-of-the-u-s-response-to-the-china-virus/

16. Davis, Devonta and Mayer, Rick. “DeSantis Orders End Of Local COVID Mandates, Signs Bill That Includes Vaccine ‘Passport’ Ban.” Health News Florida. May 3, 2021. https://health.wusf.usf.edu/health-news-florida/2021-05-03/desantis-orders-end-of-local-covid-mandates-signs-emergency-bill-that-bans-vaccine-passports

17. Pease, Harold. “Guest column: Why all Americans should want the Arizona forensic audit.” Mountain Democrat. 10 May 2021. https://www.mtdemocrat.com/opinion/guest-column-why-all-americans-should-want-the-arizona-forensic-audit/

18. Payne, Daniel. “Efforts underway in key battleground states to return voting systems to pre-2020 rules.” Just the News. March 1, 2021. https://justthenews.com/politics-policy/elections/efforts-underway-key-battleground-states-return-voting-systems-pre-2020