by Bob Barr
In the 1980s, Wall Street hot shots who raked in millions playing fast and loose with questionable, if not illegal, stock trades were derisively labelled “Masters of the Universe.” Today’s Big Tech CEOs, who control social media platforms used daily by billions of people, have become far more powerful and wealthy than their 1980s predecessors, yet face little meaningful push back from Democrats preparing to take control of power in our nation’s Capital.
These Lords of Social Media now have become emboldened by last week’s deplorable violence inside the Capitol building, to openly do what they appear to have long desired – to deploy their vast financial, technological, and political power to silence those who dare communicate political ideas not adhering to their liberal orthodoxy.
These cohorts understand the First Amendment to our Constitution does not directly apply to them since they are not the government. Conveniently ignored by these social media powerhouses, of course, is the fact that their power and wealth benefits greatly from government programs and regulations, to say nothing of the massive benefits they derive thanks to federal, state, and even local tax benefits.
The notion that with great power comes responsibility – a principle these and other Liberals almost gleefully charge President Trump with violating – also does not, of course, apply to them. They claim that appearances and common sense to the contrary, their social media platforms are not subject to being held to the same standard as traditional publishers. It is the provisions of Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act of 1996 on which they hang their hat, and which provides them free rein to censure communication they do not like without legal repercussions as would otherwise apply.
Instead of seeing themselves as stewards of the hallowed concept of fair, free, and responsible speech that over the decades has undergirded public discourse in our country, they consider themselves 21st Century Centurions standing at the gates of Rome and ready to do the bidding not of Caesar, but the Democratic Party.
This would explain why Big Tech’s mass bans and censorship impacts almost exclusively members of the Right. It is a dangerous abuse of power, even if there is no law to stop them.
In no “free” society can mass censorship, by government or the private sector, be considered a positive trait. History teaches us that when censorship occurs, authoritarianism is not far behind. It is the same story time and again, whether in China, Hong Kong, Thailand, Turkey… the list goes on. Always, as now in America, such actions are justified as necessary to secure “public safety.”
In fact, in these other countries, as in the United States today, it is not so much about controlling public spaces against violence, as it is in securing and maintaining control of information, and with it, control of political power.
The free exchange of ideas is vital to the health of any democracy, allowing good ideas to flourish, bad ideas to be debated, and truly reprehensible ideas identified and squashed. This system of discourse keeps citizens sharp, and politicians honest. To be sure, there is an inherent danger in allowing evil ideas to see the light, but the wisdom of our Founding Fathers was that it was far better to have such ideas sanitized by the light, rather than sending them into the shadows to fester and grow.
This is where Big Tech censorship fails most glaringly. For all the purported “public safety” censorship is claimed to offer, it is not as if bad ideas evaporate once removed from the social media platforms. Instead, they grow like weeds, with no balancing pushback by open, rational debate in public arenas.
If this balance of speech is to work, free from the agendas of power brokers both public and private, we must constantly challenge ourselves to push back against bad actors, even from within our own ranks, who use this freedom to peddle ideas and actions counter to America’s values. This is the price of keeping government at bay, and worse censorship to come.
Last week’s violence at the Capitol and the purge against Conservatives that has followed, together reflects a failure that sets America down a dark path from which many other once-free societies never recovered. Only principled, moral leadership will save us; a class of leaders in distressingly short supply these days.
Bob Barr represented Georgia’s 7th District in the U.S. House of Representatives from 1995 to 2003 and was the U.S. Attorney for the Northern District of Georgia from 1986 to 1990. He served as an official with the CIA during the 1970s.