From Spotify, to Youtube, to GoFundMe, right wing voices are being shut out of the internet, their accounts banned, and digital groups disbanded. The sweeping crackdown in the wake of the Capitol coup attempt has sparked the Twitter hashtag “#1984ishere,” which was repeated and amplified by right wing pundits claiming that “conservative speech” was being “censored” online. It is not my place to make a judgement as to whether or not the actions of tech companies is right or wrong, I do think we need to ask ourselves, however, if the premise is true. Is conservative speech is being censored?
Clearly those sharing the #1984ishere hashtag, have never actually read 1984, but I suppose maybe they saw that old Macintosh ad and felt sufficiently informed.
There is unquestionably a “left-ish” bias in the technology world and this is finding its way into the algorithms that drive search the media that we are exposed to. There are very real concerns about other viewpoints getting drowned out, if not actually blocked or “censored.”
But it is crucial to remember that Twitter, Facebook, and other social media platforms are not public forums. They are private platforms that are not subject to First Amendment protections in the Constitution. I’ll admit, though, this is within the realm of debate.
The modem forum is a digital one, and one might reasonably argue that technology companies have too much power and sway over speech and media. I am sympathetic to this argument, but it is false to assert that anyone’s Constitutional rights are being violated when Zuckerberg gave them the boot.
On second thought, does anyone really want to be on Facebook anyway?
Now let’s get back to the premise: “conservative speech is being censored online.” This statement assumes that it is “conservative” speech and commentators that are being suspended or removed by tech giants. But are they?
If we look at popular conservative talking heads, like Steven Crowder, Glenn Beck, or Ben Shapiro, they are certainly still very active online. Similarly, we don’t see conservative members of Congress, such as Ted Cruz, or Lindsey Graham, having their accounts suspended or blocked. (I used the term conservative here to describe these congressmen only out of respect, as they self-identify as being conservative. Their biological markers say otherwise.)
While my evidence is purely anecdotal, I think you would be hard pressed to find examples of conservative speech blocked or accounts suspended solely on the basis of presenting conservative opinions.
On the contrary, look at the accounts that have been blocked by big tech. Take Steve Bannon, for example, who was very active online until he named specific government officials whom he suggested should have theirs heads cut off and placed on pikes for disloyalty to Trump. Another example is Lin Wood, a pro-Trump attorney who called for the execution of certain government officials by firing squad.
Parler, the “conservative” app that presented itself as an alternative to Twitter, was only blocked from Amazon services after refusing to remove its users’ calls to violence, insurrection, and executions of individuals and groups of people that its members disagree with.
Calls to violence, even if it were to be censored by the government (it’s not), is not protected by the First Amendment anyway. I am not here to argue that big tech’s enforcement of their respective TOS are equally, fairly, and perfectly applied, but the intent appears to be at curtailing violence and extremism, not conservative speech.
That’s not to say that individuals on Twitter weren’t itching to hit the delete button on Trump’s account for months.
The voices being banned, in my view, are not conservative voices at all. Thus, the premise made here is false, unless Ted Cruz or other critics of big tech’s actions want to be associated with individuals who call for the murder of democrats, liberals, and certain racial groups. Or perhaps they want their votes in 2024?
No, big tech is targeting a new breed of radical right wing extremist and this is not without precedent. Extremists groups, especially those who call for violence, have long found themselves banned by tech companies. ISIS, a radical organization that sought to impose its will using violence and terror in the Middle East, often radicalized its members and organized its campaigns through social media. Tech companies proudly removed hundreds of thousands of accounts associated with with extremist groups like ISIS. Conservatives who cry free speech now had little concern about big tech’s actions then.
While it might be fair to argue that big tech should not be the arbiter of speech, it is clear that Constitutional rights are not being violated. Further, the characterization that “conservative” speech is targeted, is false. Instead, this is a move against a radical extremist fringe and fully within precedent.