Facebook and Twitter drew a bright and dangerous line in the online sand late this week by banning the sitting president of the United States from their platforms. They are treating President Trump as they do terrorists, mass murders, human traffickers and child molesters.
The Tech Titans claim they are preventing the dissemination of dangerous content. Yet the #hangMikePence threat has been trending unabated on Twitter. When it comes to President Trump, social media companies are taking the side of discrimination over freedom of expression.
People on all sides of the political spectrum should be alarmed instead of cheering Big Tech on. If the social media giants can block a Republican president from their platforms, they can also block Democratic elected officials and far-left groups.
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It’s a safe bet that many of the people applauding the banning of President Trump by Twitter and Facebook would be outraged if the companies took the same action radical Democrats like Reps. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York, Ilhan Omar of Minnesota and Rashida Tlaib of Michigan in response to their inflammatory posts.
The rioters who stormed the U.S. Capitol on Wednesday — leading to the deaths of five people — were not being patriotic, nor were they defending the Constitution. They are criminals. They are not representative of conservatives or Trump supporters. People of good conscience all condemn their thuggish and illegal actions.
But unfortunately, Big Tech companies appear to be using the riot as a justification for their already questionable approach to policing political speech.
For example, the companies have a record of suppressing stories that reflect poorly on Democrats, like the scandal surrounding President-elect Joe Biden’s son Hunter — who is being investigated by the Justice Department for possible tax law violations. But this is selective censorship.
The truth is that the banning of posts by President Trump is just the latest example of the steady efforts by social media companies and others on the left to silence conservative voices. The cancel culture has now created a new and unnerving phase of a societal purge for supposed wrongthink.
Over the years, there have been many inconsistencies in the application of the rules and standards of conduct on social media platforms. These overwhelmingly weigh against conservatives.
To their credit, Big Tech companies largely fended off calls from the left to take even more draconian steps to silence their political opponents — some more than others. Perhaps that was to stay in the good graces of the Trump administration, in fear of regulatory actions that could cost the companies huge sums of money.
But with President Trump now having just over a week left in office and many Democrats calling for his impeachment, the social media companies have become emboldened to act against him.
Going forward, no individual or group is safe. As a spokesperson for the American Civil Liberties Union — no bastion of conservatism — noted in a statement: “We understand the desire to permanently suspend him [Trump] now, but it should concern everyone when companies like Facebook and Twitter wield the unchecked power to remove people from platforms that have become indispensable for the speech of billions — especially when political realities make those decisions easier.”
The ACLU has pulled no punches in criticizing President Trump and his administration, but the liberal group realizes that the constitutional right to free speech belongs to all people, even when that speech is unpopular.
With their drastic action against President Trump, the social media companies can no longer feign being unbiased and apolitical. Nor do they have to. They have little reason to be restrained.
President-elect Biden is sympathetic to Big Tech, as was President Obama, who Biden served as vice president. Now we should all be concerned that Biden and a Democratic-controlled House of Representatives and Senate will pursue policies that liberal, Silicon Valley types demand to silence conservative voices.
It is becoming more and more difficult for free-marketers who believe in the concept of free speech to oppose government actions to regulate technology. Many of us have balanced our frustrations with instances of censorship against the tremendous value that social media have provided. We have faith that the market, not government, is the best way to make sure that a marketplace of ideas remains free.
Imperfect as they are, platforms such as Twitter and Facebook have offered groups of like-minded individuals and organizations a public square to meet, exchange ideas, celebrate milestones and even grieve losses.
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For those of us on the right who live in deeply blue states, community groups and hashtags allowed us to gather and form associations. Conservative organizations and elected officials lean on social media to transmit their messages, build followings and secure support.
Social media platforms have been an effective tool to rapidly disseminate information, organize individuals, and democratize society — just as the printing press did nearly 600 years ago.
A plurality of Americans credit technology with making the biggest improvement to life in our country over the past five years. Censorship undermines those benefits.
The actions of social media companies now veer past hypocrisy to being harmful to public discourse and democracy. As private entities, they can enforce their rules as they please. However, they hold such a critical role in the functioning of society that they should hold themselves to a high standard and avoid becoming tools for discrimination rather than vanguards of equality.
Censoring and purging political viewpoints will not make the ideas suddenly disappear. It will only make these viewpoints go underground, create resentments, and make wounds fester. Healthy dialogue changes hearts and minds.
To heal the deep divisions in our nation, we need open forums that encourage understanding, not thought-police who selectively censor those with unpopular views and encourage groupthink.