No One Cares About Free Speech
The greatest political change of the last decade is the wholesale loss of free speech even as a principle. It is now accepted throughout the West that governments must censor speech. Those who are censored always seem to be on the Right.
At a recent hearing before the Judiciary Committee, senators grandstanded before Big Tech CEOs, accusing them of not censoring enough to “protect” people. Senator Lindsey Graham (R-SC) called for lawsuits against Meta Platforms, X, TikTok, Snap, and Discord — a strange tactic for a supposed conservative. “Open up the courthouse door,” he said. “Until you do that, nothing will change.”
Before the hearing, Senator Dick Durbin (D-MI) said Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act and end-to-end encryption hurt people. Section 230 gives certain websites protection from liability so they can’t be sued for material others post. Given the way courts work now, making platforms liable would be an immediate excuse to ban all conservatives, including Donald Trump. Smaller websites such as Gab would probably be driven offline because they would not be able to afford lawsuits and constant content moderation.
The “Kids Online Safety Act” would require social media to take “reasonable measures” to prevent “harm,” including exposure to bullying, anorexia, and predatory marketing. These are all subjective; almost anything could be “bullying” or “predatory” if someone doesn’t like it. This bill was first introduced by Senator Marsha Blackburn (R-TN), who said it might help stop transgenderism from being pushed on children. Now, she doesn’t think it would have that effect. Transgenderism is the latest “civil right,” so media and NGO lobbying would decide what is “child endangerment” and what is noble activism.
Senator Blackburn raged at tech company estimates that the lifetime value of a teenage user of a social media company is $270. There are already T-shirts that say self-righteously “I am more than $270.” Maybe, but not to Facebook. The fact is, eyeballs equal ad revenue. How much was a New York Times subscriber worth in the days before the internet? Complaining about this is absurd.
“You have convinced over two billion people to give up all their personal information — every bit of it — in exchange for getting to see what their high school friends had for dinner Saturday night,” said Senator John Kennedy (R-LA). Are tech companies to blame, or do people crave gossip and love to compare status? If tech companies are responsible for “manipulating” people to feel bad about themselves, than human beings don’t deserve autonomy. Censorship can’t be reconciled with democracy, and if Americans are too stupid to use Facebook, they shouldn’t vote.
Senator Amy Klobuchar (D-MN) lost her composure and said the Senate needed to pass bills to stop young people from committing suicide after being supposedly bullied online. As if a law could do that. Why do “idealized body images” drive people to suicide now, but Rita Hayworth and 1950s pinups didn’t? Is it Facebook’s fault if Americans are fatter than they were 60 years ago?
It is true that social media mold public opinion more powerfully than newspapers or television, but if certain views are banned from it, censors will decide what is politically possible. That’s the end of democracy. Republicans seem blind to the slow-motion purge of the last decade. They now say they want more censorship “in the name of the children.” Instead, they will, themselves, be censored, before they realize they have slit their own throats.