Free speech is under attack in America, but not by the federal government. This time, it’s woke corporations and an unruly mob who want you to think twice before choosing not to speak at all. Many conservatives, libertarians, patriots, and Christians would be wary of sporting 2nd Amendment shirts – not in fear of social reproach, but rather in fear of becoming the latest viral sensation on Twitter or Facebook.
Big Tech is currently at the forefront of a two-pronged assault on free speech. On the one hand, they will deplatform you, restricting your ability to speak your mind and exiling you to the ghettoes of the Internet. On the other hand, they provide an easy way for the regime’s shock troops to organize their campaigns. In effect, social media is a forum for controlled debate, discussion, and expression, and a way for freelance Stasi agents to organize their campaigns.
Liberals and some capital-L Libertarians often smugly respond that the First Amendment does not protect Americans from private companies, only the government. While this is strictly speaking true, does anyone think that the phone company should be allowed to shut off your mobile because you engage in legal speech they and their woke shock troops oppose?
Free speech is more than just a legal principle, it is a core American value and the very basis of meaningful political discussion.
The left does not agree. They cheered while the sitting President of the United States was systematically unpersoned from the entire Internet. For them, free speech was never a core American value, it was simply a means to gain power. Now that they have a firm grasp on social, economic, and political power, denying freedom of speech to their enemies, namely you, is the name of the game.
The same political forces who think that you should be unpersoned for stating simple truths obvious to most people and completely within the realm of acceptable opinion a mere ten years ago also think that Christian bakers should be forced to bake offensive cakes. This is clear evidence that their support of free speech is conditional on who is saying what to whom.
The case of Christian baker, Jack Phillips, who is specifically targeted for lawfare because of his steadfast refusal to bend the knee, and the case of Twitter’s mass banning of conservatives, libertarians, Christians, and patriots provide us with the perfect opportunity to talk about what we mean when we say “free speech.”
Scale matters. A mom-and-pop bakery in suburban Denver can’t stop anyone from speaking their mind. There are dozens of bakeries in the Denver area alone. On a larger scale, Twitter is an effective monopoly with “free speech alternatives” quickly turning into little more than a place for the right to yammer at itself. This is precisely the point – to isolate a free-thinking and fighting right from the moderate voices, skeptical of the leftist project that they might influence.
What’s more, the line between a government entity and the private sector is not nearly as clean as it once was. Elected officials openly call on nominally private companies like Twitter and Facebook to engage in more censorship of the wrong kinds of speech. What they cannot do through legislative action, they seek to do through the diktats of unelected commissars in Silicon Valley. Finally, there is a revolving door between the private sector and Washington and Silicon Valley that contributes to the cozy relationship between the two. Politicians leave D.C. and get cushy consulting jobs, board memberships, and lobbying gigs.
College campuses are another place where freedom of speech is wantonly curbed by the faceless unelected. Here the issue becomes much more clear. Tinker v. Des Moines Independent Community School District clearly states that a student’s right to free speech does not end at the schoolhouse doors. In the case of state schools, these aren’t even private institutions. Your tax dollars are going to pay people who indoctrinate your children to hate America, hate freedom, hate your religion, and in many cases, hate you. All while making sure that alternative points of view are suppressed.
This is not the America that any of us want to live in. While we should be sensitive to the notion that private businesses have the right to deny people service, we also need to recognize that the heavily subsidized behemoths of Big Tech are not Masterpiece Cakeshop. They act as a de facto public square and have much more in common with a telecommunications platform like the phone company than they do with the coffee shop down the road.
The crux of law is figuring out where the line is drawn. I am an absolutist when it comes to the First and Second Amendments, and I suspect that many of you are as well. In the final analysis, freedom of speech is about ensuring a multiplicity of voices to openly and transparently discuss public policy. We should favor any and all measures to ensure that Americans have access to freedom of speech and the opportunity to use the tools and forums of the age in which we live.