The conservative world – or at least the right-wing world – was rocked this week with the news that Facebook, Apple and Spotify would ban Jones and his Infowars podcasts from their sites. Much of the right-wing reaction has focused on the question of freedom of speech and whether the internet giants have a duty to provide access to Jones’ conspiratorial ramblings.
The crux of the issue is that Facebook and the other companies are private entities. Because they are not part of the government, the First Amendment does not apply. The First Amendment only protects freedom of speech from being infringed upon by Congress, not private corporations.
In Facebook’s case, the waters are muddied by CEO Mark Zuckerberg’s claims that the social media giant is “a platform for all ideas” and that he is trying to “root out” bias in the company. If the company truly welcomes all ideas, then it should allow Jones to post his ideas, as reprehensible as they are, unless he violates the site’s terms of service.
Facebook should also set an objective standard to determine what is and isn’t “hate speech” and “bullying,” the vague terms that were used to justify Jones ouster from the site. The standards should be applied to both sides of the political spectrum. The list of political leftists who use hate speech is long and filled with people who are rarely held accountable for their words. Sarah Jeong is only the most recent example.
If freedom of speech is endangered by the left, many on the right are happy to attack the free speech rights of their political opponents as well. The most glaring example is the NFL kneeling controversy. President Trump overstepped his authority last year by calling on NFL team owners to fire players who kneeled to protest during the National Anthem. Many conservatives supported the president without stopping to think that the NFL, like Facebook, is a private organization.
In either case, the appropriate action for people who disagree with how the owners of Facebook and the NFL run their businesses would be to fire them. No one is forced to have a Facebook account or watch the NFL. If enough people vote with their wallets and stop sending their money to leftist companies, these policies may eventually change. The one thing that conservatives should agree on is that the government should not tell private companies how to run their business or what they should allow.
Unfortunately, that is not the case. Both sides seem perfectly willing to abridge the free speech rights of their political opponents. That includes many on Republicans who consider the media “fake news.” A new Ipsos poll found that a plurality of Republicans, 43 percent, believe that “the president should have the authority to close news outlets engaged in bad behavior.”
The idea that Big Government should referee the freedoms of speech and press is not new to the left, but should be an anathema to small government conservatives. At the very least, Republicans in favor of restricting speech should be aware that the government’s powers of censorship would almost certainly be turned against conservative outlets – or conspiracy sites like Infowars - by the next Democratic administration.
Where Voltaire famously said, “I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it.” Modern Americans of all political stripes say, “What you say offends me, so you must be silenced.” The First Amendment applies to me, but not you.
Justice Louis Brandeis had a better idea. Noting that “Those who won our independence were not cowards” who feared political speech, Brandeis said that, for the problem of dangerous and evil speech, the “remedy to be applied is more speech, not enforced silence.” That’s a solution that all Americans should get behind.
[Photo credit: Sean P. Anderson/Flickr]