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Speech Suppression is Habit-Forming


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Jewish World Review

Michael Barone

July 23 2021

Speech suppression is a habit that the Biden administration and its liberal supporters can't seem to break. Many staffers may have picked up the habit in their student years: Colleges and universities have been routinely censoring "politically incorrect" speech for the last 30 years. As Thomas Sowell noted, "There are no institutions in America where free speech is more severely restricted than in our politically correct colleges and universities, dominated by liberals."

Now, the Biden administration seems to be giving the colleges and universities some serious competition. Like many Democrats during the Trump presidency, they have come to see suppression of "fake news" as the ordinary course of business and indeed a prime responsibility of social media platforms.

For decades, print and broadcast media have been dominated by liberals, but Facebook, Google and Twitter have developed a stranglehold over the delivery of news which exceeds anything that the three major broadcast networks and a few national newspapers every enjoyed. If they suppress a story or a line of argument, it largely disappears from public view. And to the extent that it lingers, it can be stigmatized by these multibillion-dollar companies as "misinformation" or "fake news."

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As conservative commentator Stephen L. Miller wrote, "Removing information on vaccines will translate right over to anything they think is misinformation on gun violence, or climate, or healthcare or what defines a man or woman. Which is why they are doing this."

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The New Censorship

History shows the dangers of suppressing scientific debate—but social media platforms, using public health as a justification, are eroding free speech.

John Steele Gordon

July 23, 2021

There is a growing tendency toward censorship in the United States, made worse by the Covid-19 pandemic. It must be opposed vigorously, as it is a slippery slope indeed. Once people have the power (and it is an awesome one) to decide what is truth and what is not, they will never willingly give it up. As that great political scientist, James Madison, explained, “Men love power.”

Over the last few years, the phrase “the science is settled” has become a euphemism for “shut up.” This year, the various social media platforms have been deleting what they declare to be Covid “misinformation.” The truth, as far as Facebook, Twitter, and others are concerned, is now whatever the government’s line is at the moment. Disgracefully, the Biden administration has been encouraging social media platforms to increase this censorship.

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The solution for politicians who advocate censorship is easy: vote them out of office. You can’t do that with the people who run social media sites, however. Some argue that, since they are private companies, the social media providers are free to censor to their heart’s content, for the First Amendment applies only to government. But railroads, airlines, and utilities such as power and telephone companies are private companies, too, and they can’t deny service to people whom they dislike or disagree with. They are what is known as “common carriers,” subject to government regulation to make sure that they don’t discriminate.

A version of the common-carrier solution has been proposed for social media companies, analogous to the Fairness Doctrine that required television and radio stations to present both sides of an issue. That doctrine was dropped as no longer necessary in the Reagan years when the number of television networks began to expand dramatically. But social media platforms—which are, in fact, vast conversations—are what economists call “natural monopolies,” where competition is inescapably limited or nonexistent. Everyone wants to be on the biggest platform.

Conservatives are instinctively leery of government regulation, but the increasing plausibility of a social media fairness doctrine illustrates just how badly the situation has deteriorated. Whatever the solution may be, few would deny now that the growing prevalence of censorship is a major threat to the American future. It is tearing the heart out of the First Amendment and endangering our democracy.

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