Can an industry infected with group think be trusted to police the marketplace of ideas?
Patrick Baird libertarianfederalist.com
In the wake of violent protests in Charlottesville, Virginia, sparked by the “Unite the Right” rally, there were the usual calls to redefine free speech. A New York Times piece, “The ACLU Needs to Rethink Free Speech,” written by housing attorney K-Sue Park, was typical. Park repeats the progressive notion that historically oppressed groups lack access to an equal playing field when it comes to expression, therefore defending the free speech rights of others outside these groups are inherently biased. Most hilariously, Park uses the example of cowed and terrified left-wing college professors suffering at the hands of the vast right-wing conspiracy.
That wasn’t enough for some, however. Within days, numerous participants in the “Unite the Right” had been publicly identified and were subjected to attempts to go after their employment. Many did wind up losing their jobs. Progressives defend this practice by stating that public shaming is a relatively benign means of expressing community norms and eliminating noxious views from society.
Of course, progressives didn’t stop with benign measures; within days many of the groups that participated in the rally found their web hosting or PayPal accounts closed. This included the crowd funding site Hatteon, a site created specifically to provide a censorship-free funding channel for alt-right groups. Hatreon lost its web server Digital Ocean. A Digital Ocean spokesperson stated, “This is a terrible situation, but Digital Ocean believes that tech has a role in preventing hate crimes and violence from spreading, and takes that responsibility seriously.”
This attitude was widespread in the tech industry. GoDaddy, Google, Apple, Squarespace, Facebook, OKCupid, Spotify, all acted to remove websites, boot users, or delete content deemed “hateful.” For the most part, it didn’t take much pressure, if any, to convince the tech companies to act. In nearly every case, senior leadership joined the echo chorus of the left, denouncing “hate and violence.” Apple CEO Tim Cook expressed the typical view: “Regardless of your political views, we must all stand together on this one point — that we are all equal. As a company, through our actions, our products and our voice, we will always work to ensure that everyone is treated equally and with respect.”
This reminds me of the famous quote from George Orwell’s Animal Farm: “All animals are equal, but some animals are more equal than others.”
Tech companies have the legal right to run their platforms as they see fit, with few limits. Supporters of alt-right censorship correctly point the fact that the 1st Amendment only protects citizens from censorship by the state. Private censorship is not un-constitutional.
Am I the only one who was chilled at how rapidly and thoroughly a political viewpoint was erased from the public sphere? What makes this even more frightening is the fact that the tech companies joined the jihad willingly, agreeing with those demanding censorship. No boycotts were announced, no one filed a lawsuit, the progressive justice league just pointed their fingers and Silicon Valley leapt into action.
As the recent flap over Google employee’s James Damore internal memo questioning his employer’s diversity policies demonstrated, Silicon Valley seems to have a group think problem, at least at the top levels of management. Anything that threatens their adopted progressive worldview that embraces one-sided tolerance and selective group identity diversity is crushed. When Peter Thiel, co-founder of PayPal came out in support of Donald Trump’s candidacy, he was ostracized by his peers. Mozilla co-founder Brendan Eich was forced to resign as CEO in 2014 when it was revealed that he donated to groups opposing California’s referendum legalizing gay marriage.
If all the printing presses in America had been controlled by pro-British businessmen in 1783, would the founding fathers have shrugged their shoulders and collectively said, “Oh, well, I guess we’ll just have to live with that?” If all the radio stations in America in 1941 had been owned by Nazi sympathizers, would FDR have done nothing? Those are ridiculous examples, of course, but the fact that they are hyperbole demonstrates why the current situation is so unique. We have never had the marketplace of ideas under the control of one viewpoint before in our history.
This is not idle paranoia. For how many decades have progressives labeled their opponents “Nazis?” How often is any vocal opposition to progressive dogma declared “hate speech?” How comfortable are Christians, conservatives, and libertarians in the realms controlled by progressives, like our college campuses? How often are dissenting viewpoint suppressed by progressives, often violently?
If Silicon Valley is onboard with the progressive jihad, then why should libertarians tolerate that? Do we have to wait until we are put on the “bad people” list? Should we wait until our blogs, websites, and PayPal accounts are shut down?
It pains me to say this, because it is so un-libertarian, but maybe we need the intervention of the state in this matter. Just the threat of regulation might convince tech companies to implement policies that provide protection for unpopular speech. And failing that, maybe tech companies should be forced to do so, recognizing that they are more than private companies, they are in fact, public utilities.
What’s the alternative? Wait for our turn? Hope that when that day comes we can appeal to an indifferent American public, many of whom seem OK with weakening free speech? Who is going to save us?
Help me out here, fellow libertarians. I really don’t see a good answer.