Big Tech’s banning of President Trump has caught the attention of world leaders, and they are rightly concerned. But their proposed way forward is not one we should embrace.
Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Snapchat, and now Youtube have all either permanently banned or suspended the president’s accounts and those of his supporters for what they consider was his responsibility in inciting the violent assault on the U.S. Capitol last week and ongoing threats.
As I explained in an op-ed on FoxNews.com, anyone who believes in the free exchange of ideas online should be concerned about the measures these companies have taken.
World leaders speak out
On Monday, a spokesman for German Chancellor Angela Merkel called Twitter’s ban “problematic” and added:
The fundamental right [of freedom of expression] can be interfered with, but along the lines of the law and within the framework defined by the lawmakers. Not according to the decision of the management of social media platforms.
Mexican President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador called the power to censor President Trump a “bad sign”:
I don’t like anybody being censored or taking away from the right to post a message on Twitter or Facebook. I don’t agree with that, I don’t accept that.
A court of censorship like the Inquisition to manage public opinion: this is really serious.
French Finance Minister Bruno Le Maire condemned what he called Trump’s “lies” but still expressed disagreement with banning him:
What shocks me is that Twitter is the one to close his account. The regulation of the digital world cannot be done by the digital oligarchy.
Thierry Breton, the European commissioner for the internal market, wrote this week:
… the fact that a CEO can pull the plug on POTUS’s loudspeaker without any checks and balances is perplexing. It is not only confirmation of the power of these platforms, but it also displays deep weaknesses in the way our society is organized in the digital space.
These leaders are right to call out the unilateral decision to ban Trump as a threat to the diversity of thought. However, what some of them advocate would be to make the government the arbiters of speech.
The head of EU diplomacy, Josep Borrell, wrote in a blog post:
We also need to be able to better regulate the contents of social networks, while scrupulously respecting freedom of expression. It is not possible for this regulation to be carried out mainly according to rules and procedures set by private actors.
Will greater regulation of Big Tech fix this problem?
If the goal is to protect free speech and promote civil discourse, will government regulations really get us there?
The underlying assumption is that Congress can force private companies to protect free speech.
Here are a few things to think about:
First, First Amendment speech rights apply to the government’s restrictions on the speech of its citizens. Private companies have the right to limit speech as they please.
However, if platforms claim to be forums for open dialogue, they should, at the least, apply their rules equally but, ideally, err on the side of allowing speech rather than restricting it. The problem is that their content moderation decisions have led to inconsistencies that more often than not have hampered—even hamstrung—conservatives, Trump supporters, and now even, President Trump.
Second, giving the government greater decision-making over content moderation (i.e., the policing of speech online) almost certainly ensures that many Americans will lose their voice because their political thoughts and viewpoints are out of step with those in power.
For example, regulations on Big Tech today would almost certainly be written and enacted by lawmakers on the Left who generally believe that social media companies have not gone far enough to censor President Trump and conservatives.
The latest episodes of censorship are frustrating and partisan, but before we jump on the regulation now bandwagon, we have to consider that the potential consequences may not be what any of us wants.