For conservatives, the idea that free speech — that most integral of constitutional protections ensconced in the First Amendment — is now under full-scale assault culturally, corporately and governmentally is not exactly news.
We’ve been feeling the hammer for some time now.
But 2018 saw the ugly head of creeping authoritarian impulses poke above the surface and smile the wicked smile of the tyrant seeing his moment.
In the end, this is not a conservative, liberal, libertarian, Republican, Democrat issue — it is a Leftist versus everyone else impulse. Yes, continually redefining the Overton window — the boundaries of societally acceptable speech — inward is being done on the left and largely excluding liberals at the moment. So liberals don’t see the leftists coming for them. Many don’t even realize the difference. But they will. (See the attacks by the transgender activists against feminists as an early volley.)
Authoritarian throttling of free speech is an animal that will eat us all in the end. But alas, it is up to conservatives and our voices — and hopefully elected representatives — to be the frontline defense against this assault. If we wait for others to come onboard, it will be too late. Our voices will be gone.
Andrew Doyle wrote in Spiked magazine:
“Who would have thought that in 2018 it would be deemed controversial to uphold the principle of free speech? Whatever else the events of this year have taught us, it is now clear that the fundamental human right to express oneself as one sees fit is under threat. With both major political parties supporting further hate-speech legislation and varying degrees of press regulation, and with Silicon Valley tech giants routinely censoring their users, the time is ripe seriously to consider how we might retaliate against the creeping authoritarianism of our age.”
This is the very reason that The Revolutionary Act was launched two years ago. Our name comes from George Orwell’s dystopian 1984 novel in which he writes that in a time of universal deceit, telling the truth is the revolutionary act. In 1984, telling the truth through the exercise of any form of speech was punishable by the offender disappearing (death) and ultimately their very existence being erased from history through the memory hole.
We don’t live in Orwell’s 1984. But we are undeniably moving in that direction, and 2018 made it clear.
Of course, there remains the blackballing of wrong-think Hollywood actors and producers, right-think speech codes on college campuses and Antifa thugs in the streets of the most liberal cities and college campuses intimidating and attacking conservatives. But that is old school, inefficient free speech quashing.
The real fight now over free speech is in the digital realms that have come to dominate our lives, and where censorship is oh so real.
In the strictest sense, censorship can only be a legal violation when committed by the state. In the age of social media giants as the primary conduits of information, however, it is as tangible as any kingly edict of old.
Facebook, Youtube, Twitter, Instagram, Google dominate the flow of information in a way inconceivable a decade ago. We now know that all of them purposely tip the scales in favor of the left, against conservatives — including shadow banning, suspending accounts, outright banning, fudging search results and more. Internet Service Providers (ISPs) have even taken down and erased web sites with which they disagree. So far, those have been pretty extreme sites, thought to be on the extreme right but actually not on the right at all.
We have just learned that the leadership of the tech giants meet periodically to discuss what Twitter calls “healthy conversation” and that Facebook has created 1,400 pages of rules for their moderators to use to curate more right-think.
Most conservatives, myself included, recoil at the idea of the government meddling in the decisions of private companies — particularly those involved in disseminating public information. But the ubiquitousness of just a half dozen companies in commanding most of the world’s information flow — companies that are run uniformly by leftists who meet periodically to coordinate how they will stop wrongthink (for which they use more soothing terms) should cause every freedom-loving American to be just short of terrified.
There are a couple of options, in addition to doing exactly what I am doing.
One, the Silicon Valley rulers could be determined to be quasi-monopolies, giving the federal government the authority to regulate them as it does utility companies. That strikes me as a pretty bad option as the government sometimes micromanages utility companies while also guaranteeing their profits. Really bad for information platforms.
Second is the idea of an Internet Bill of Rights. This sounds great on the surface, but once you read some of those proposed — largely by Democrats — you realize it has nothing to do with free speech. It folds together a lock-in for net neutrality, increased privacy rights for individuals, consumer choice for ISPs and more. So this just becomes a D.C. grab bag without actually addressing the elephant stinking up the living room.
Democrats think the elephant will only stink up Republicans’ living rooms, so they ignore it. So the Internet Bill of Rights is not a great idea unless it is grounded Constitutionally in the First Amendment. Does that seem likely coming out of Congress right now?
Third, the Silicon Valley giants’ legal standing as platforms could and should be challenged in court. In censoring based on content, they are acting more and more as publishers, meaning they should held to a much higher standard at many levels, not least of which is copyright laws. If they lost such a court challenge, they would instantly have to relinquish their censorial ways and revert to their earlier forms of being open platforms only to survive. This seems like the best option.
Of course, there are the alternatives social media sites, but they are so tiny as to be irrelevant. Even if that changed, it would just result in a further bifurcation information, placing Americans at even more distant extremes from each other.
Whatever happens going forward, and my fear is nothing but more egregious censoring by tech giants, 2019 and most certainly the election year of 2020 will be dangerous times for fundamental rights.
Rod Thomson is an author, TV talking head and former journalist, and is Founder of The Revolutionary Act. Rod is co-host of Right Talk America With Julio and Rod on the Salem Radio Network.
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