Over the past couple of weeks, recent actions by a number of social media platforms to limit, censor or “shadow ban” conservatives have prompted an outcry from our ranks.
“How dare they mess with our freedom of speech!” some cry. “This is illegal.”
President Trump chimed in on the matter, too, tweeting:
“Social Media is totally discriminating against Republican/Conservative voices. Speaking loudly and clearly for the Trump Administration, we won’t let that happen. They are closing down the opinions of many people on the RIGHT, while at the same time doing nothing to others.......”
Not to be dismissive of these legitimate concerns – they’re wrong.
Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and other social media platforms are privately-owned mass media properties, which have full First Amendment (and other) protections, preventing government from telling them what to post and how to operate.
If you use these “free” services, you use them as their guest. You don’t have a First Amendment right to access or remain on their private property if they don’t want you there. You can stand on a soap box and bark to the world all you want. But with your soap box. Not theirs.
I know, they’ve got the world thinking they’re the white knights of free speech for the “free and open” Internet. But, it’s their free speech they’re talking about, not yours. When you use their platforms, you agree to their terms, putting them in the catbird seat.
An example of this can be seen in Twitter’s Terms of Service:
“[Our] Services may change from time to time, at our discretion. We may stop (permanently or temporarily) providing the Services or any features within the Services to you or to users generally…[and] suspend or terminate your account or cease providing you with all or part of the Services at any time for any or no reason…”
Social media outlets really started cracking down on conservatives and “extreme” voices after the events in Charlottesville last year. Revelations that companies like Facebook and other outlets helped the Russians “collude” to “change the outcome” of the 2016 Election only added to the industry’s newfound zest for spring cleaning.
Of course, lurking in the background are censorious legislators, seeking to use any crisis to “protect” the “right” content on the “Net. When Mark Zuckerberg met with Congress in April on the so-called Cambridge Analytica scandal, Senator Diane Feinstein reminded the young CEO that: “If you don’t control your platform, we’re going to have to do something about it.”
Sadly, she is not alone – on either side of the aisle – in that belief (see the Trump tweet above).
We should be very wary of government encroachment into speech markets. The excuses are fluid and many – to ban “hate” or “bullying,” or prohibit “foreign interference” in our elections, or boosting “equality of voice” for the underprivileged, etc. etc. etc. But the First Amendment wasn’t designed to be an “equalizer” for government officials to ensure that free speech “values” prevail. It is an individual right, not a collective one; a cudgel against government action in speech markets, not an invitation for it to regulate them.
Sure, Silicon Valley’s social media properties are dominated by hard-headed Lefties, and, newsflash, their bias and what appears on their properties tends to be Lefty, too. If they don’t want conservatives in their feeds, then they and their audience lose. But, they don’t owe conservatives, or anyone else for that matter, access to their platforms.
More to the point – I’d rather they screw that up themselves than have Uncle Sam decide what is “good” and what is not. That never ends well. No matter how popular they are, they are still privately owned. It is still their decision to make about what gets published or not.
If it’s offensive, turn it off. Social media – while certainly entertaining and informative – isn’t necessary to live one’s life. Government-compelled access to private communications properties isn’t right. Even for unctuous Silicon Valley.
Mike Wendy is president of Media Freedom, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization.
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