by Stetson Bryson
In recent months tech companies have increased their censorship of ideas they deem inappropriate. Following the riot at the US Capitol, companies such as Twitter, Facebook, and YouTube have banned President Trump from their platforms, and purged followers from other conservative voices. In another attempt to halt conservatives’ ability to communicate ideas, Amazon, Apple, and Google removed Parler—a pro-free speech social media app which was embraced by conservatives—from their app stores.
With Trump’s exit from the White House—and President Biden’s promise to unite the country—society would see a return to ideological debate, where people from all affiliations can openly express their ideas, right? Not so much. Big tech has now become a partisan battle ground—Democrats calling for more censorship and control, and Republicans believing Silicon Valley has already done too much. It seems that the way to unite a country and promote discussion is by quieting the parts you do not agree with.
Last week, two California members of Congress sent letters to 12 cable and streaming companies—most notably Amazon, Apple, and Alphabet (Google’s parent company). In the letter, Reps. Anna Eshoo and Jerry McNerney detailed our country’s public discourse being plagued by misinformation, disinformation, conspiracy theories, and lies. Ironically, the Representatives only label right-wing media outlets like Newsmax, One America News Network (OANN), and Fox News as contributing disinformation.
On Wednesday, a House Energy and Commerce subcommittee held a hearing focusing largely on Reps. Eshoo and McNerney letters. Rep. Eshoo said, “the First Amendment, my friends, start with four words: Congress shall make no laws,” using the play on words to suggest they are not making laws, but merely asking the companies to detail their decisions to carry certain channels. The representatives may not be making laws infringing on free speech, simply coercing companies to ban right-wing media outlets from there services.
Republicans have been quick to show their contempt for the letters and calling the hearing a “hyper-partisan attempt to shame and blame” the cause of the Jan. 6 attack. Jonathan Turley, professor at The George Washington University Law School and witness at the hearing stated, “From the perspectives of free speech and the free press, the letter is not just chilling; it is positively glacial.” The ability to freely discuss opposing views is the cornerstone of a democratic society. An attempt to oppress the opposition is an assault on that foundation.
As representatives in the US attempt to coerce tech companies to limit speech, halfway across the globe the Chinese Communist Party is showing it can be done. For the last two years Hong Kong residents have been protesting the overreach of the Chinese government. Mainland China has been actively attempting to undermine Hong Kong’s autonomy and civil liberties. According to the Wall Street Journal, China plans to impose compete control over the city’s governance and eject its opponents by taming critical media, revamping education, and tightening internet controls. It seems, to control your critics, first you must take away their ability to communicate. Sounds eerily familiar to letters sent by representatives “asking” major US companies if they will continue carrying their political advisories.
It is remarkable to see America’s founding father’s determination to protect individual freedoms. The founders realized the need for a strong federal government but feared it would become too powerful and encroach on individuals’ rights—like the countless times before. Thomas Jefferson was adamant to include a Bill of Rights to the US Constitution guaranteeing personal liberties.
The first rights Jefferson protected were religion, speech, press, and assembly. To Jefferson, “Our liberty depends on the freedom of the press, and that cannot be limited without being lost.” Jefferson believed in the right to express oneself, free of governments permission. And realized you can not limit that freedom without ultimately loosing it.
Our First Amendment grants everyone the ability to think and speak freely—even when you do not agree. The attempt by any representative in congress to muzzle speech they deem misinformed is the first step towards totalitarianism. Democracy crumbles when any speech is censored.
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