Never before has so much power been held by so few. And never before has that power been so egregiously abused.
The censorship applied to American news consumers by Facebook, Twitter, Amazon, Google, and Apple must be broken up. They have evolved into massive monopolies that pose a grave danger to democracy by suppressing speech with which they disagree.
The staggering wealth and unbridled power of these tech giants allow them to punish political adversaries and protect partisan allies. They do so with impunity and no regard for the public interest. Examples abound.
In October of 2020, Facebook and Twitter shut down the spread of a New York Post story revealing the incriminating content of a laptop owned by Hunter Biden. They blocked millions of voters from reading an accurate story of vital public interest. The move was instrumental in containing damage to Joe Biden’s campaign just weeks before the presidential election.
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Since then, former president Donald Trump has been banned from Facebook indefinitely and banished from Twitter permanently. Parler, a social network favored by conservatives, was cut off completely when Amazon removed the site from its server, while Google and Apple deleted Parler’s app from their app stores.
Digital platforms increasingly dominate public discourse in today’s social media environment. The dissemination of speech and information is concentrated in the hands of a few private parties that control online content and platforms. Today’s oligarchs enforce their vast and influential dominion with an iron grip.
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They argue that as private companies they are not required to respect free speech rights and may act as they please. In this they are correct inasmuch as the First Amendment protects against government interference, not private action. Therein rests the dilemma of what to do when private-sector behemoths repress speech and thought in the era of the commanding internet.
There are several options that must be seriously considered and acted on.
The first option is for the government to recognize that these companies constitute clear monopolies in their respective markets —social networking, mobile content and apps, search and advertising, and e-commerce. Their sheer size, the tyranny they exert, and their anti-competitive conduct makes this obvious under any antitrust analysis.
As such, a bold move must be made to treat them as public utilities that are strictly regulated such as electric, water, gas and telecommunications companies. This will protect the public from tech abuses and free speech repression.
Sen. Bill Hagerty, R-Tenn. has introduced The 21st Century FREE Speech Act that takes aims to do just that. He described how it would work recently in an op-ed for Fox News.
So how does this happen in a bipartisan way? In an honest world, the Biden administration would initiate and lead such action. But it won’t since Democrats, and Biden in particular, have been the great beneficiaries of tech censorship.
Their progressive views align perfectly with the liberal establishment that operate today’s technology companies. Both have a common interest in maintaining the status quo of exploiting unchecked power over public discourse. Manipulating the narrative is their objective. And they’re good at it.
It is therefore most likely up to the federal courts and, in the end, the U.S. Supreme Court to rectify the wrong.
In an opinion last month involving Trump and Twitter that was dismissed as moot, Justice Clarence Thomas laid out a compelling argument that could be used in a future case before the high court to rein in social media companies by treating them as “common carriers” akin to utilities. A platform’s right to exclude users or censor content would be restricted or halted altogether. They would be held accountable.
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“If the aim is to ensure that speech is not smothered, then the more glaring concern must perforce be the dominant digital platforms themselves,” wrote Thomas.
He cited historical precedence in the transportation and communications industries that would easily justify such pragmatic regulations to safeguard the public’s greater interest in the free exchange of ideas and information.
If Biden won’t act, it is quite likely that the Supreme Court will, given its current composition.
The second option is to repeal Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act of 1996 that gives unfettered legal protections to social media companies. In essence, they are immune from liability in censoring material that they deem “objectionable”. This amorphous language allows them to do whatever they want without constraints.
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While Section 230 may have been a rational idea when the internet was a nascent endeavor and needed protection in order to grow, the anomalous exemption has long outlived its purpose. Today’s tech giants hold unfathomable wealth derived from their unprecedented market power. They are answerable to no one. This must change. They should be subject to lawsuits and damages over unfair censorship, as well as their punitive actions in banning users based on mercurial (and politically driven) standards.
It is abundantly clear that the current Congress controlled by Democrats won’t act because it is against their self-interest to do so. But if their majority is lost in next year’s mid-term elections, Republicans must seize the moment to eliminate the now-ludicrous legal shield that has enabled companies like Facebook and Twitter to rage out of control.
The third option is tied to the first. It is a given that the above-named tech goliaths constitute unlawful digital monopolies that have emerged as instruments of suppression and coercive thought. The corporate overlords who run them have become, in many ways, more powerful than our own government. This is anathema to the public’s interest in a constitutional republic that has always been dependent on the principles of free expression.
Hence, breaking up Facebook, Twitter, Amazon, Google and Apple may represent the only logical choice if all else fails. This will require time-consuming antitrust litigation that could stretch out over several years. These companies are a collective colossus with unlimited resources. Like the railroad barons and oil tycoons before them, they will spare no amount of money to battle dissolution every step of the way.
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But if these corrective measures fail, America may cease being a beacon of freedom. Corporate authoritarians will demand conformity. You’ll be dispossessed on social media if you dare to offer a contrary view.
Just as they cornered their markets and crushed competition, they’ll crush you.
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