Censorship and the Role of Big Tech

“Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.” 

Benjamin Franklin once said, “Whoever would overthrow the liberty of a nation must begin by subduing the freeness of speech.” When speech is censored and a singular narrative is mainstreamed, people lose the ability to truly reason for themselves. How can one arrive at conclusions independent of what they are being compelled to believe, especially if crucial parts of the story are being left out? Facts should always be presented in their entirety. There must always be space for open dialogue. Censorship is not only harmful, but it is an insult to the intelligence of the American people. It assumes individuals need to be told what to believe because they are not smart enough to distinguish truth from falsehood.

Free speech is foundational to who we are as a nation. In other countries, citizens are arrested, abused, and murdered for speaking their mind. Look no further than Tiananmen Square, where in China hundreds to thousands of protestors who called for democracy, free speech, and freedom of the press were killed by the government. Many more were jailed. Even in present-day Hong-Kong, calls for democracy have repeatedly been silenced. In contrast to these grim situations, Americans enjoy the freedom to express their thoughts and criticize those in power. We live in “the land of the free and the home of the brave.” In recent years however, our freedoms have been progressively threatened. The last several weeks in particular, free speech has come under attack in an unprecedented way.   

Few have a more powerful role in censoring free speech than big tech. Leading the way are YouTube, Facebook, Google, Twitter and Instagram. Each corporate entity has become increasingly bold in censoring speech they deem in violation of their policies. This process is evidently political. Parler, a third party platform, has been bolstered from Apple, Google, and Amazon. Calls for the censorship of conservatives and libertarians have been on the rise. However, most alarmingly, not even the office of the presidency is immune. On January 8th, 2021, following the events in the Capitol earlier that week, Twitter locked then-President Trump’s account and permanently banned him from the site “due to the risk of further incitement of violence.” This ban ironically occured after Trump told those gathered in Washington D.C., “I know that everyone here will soon be marching over to the Capitol building to peacefully and patriotically make your voices heard” (emphasis added).  

One may argue that big tech censorship is constitutionally permissible because the first amendment states that only Congress is forbidden from limiting speech. However, as legally valid of an argument like this may be, it ignores the issues raised by censorship. There is an important distinction between a publisher and a public forum. With a public forum, the owner is not responsible for what their users say. Conversely, a publisher is directly responsible for everything on their platform. Over the last several weeks, big tech has simultaneously attempted to become both of these entities. While they act as a reputable marketplace of ideas, their actions are far more similar to that of a publisher. Part of Twitter’s mission statement includes “giving everyone the power to create and share ideas instantly without barriers.” Their recent censorship however, seems to be a major barrier towards these goals. 

The censorship of free speech in America should concern all citizens, whether you lean left or right, conservative or liberal, republican or democrat. It goes against everything we stand for as a country: freedom of thought, individual expression, and fairness under the law. Everyone has the right to speak their minds and form their own opinions without being force-fed a single narrative. 

Now, more than ever, our country is divided and the tensions are high. We have lost our ability to debate with respect, civility, and mutual understanding. Censorship is only a reflection of this fact. While calls for accountability have come mainly from the right, those from both sides of the political aisle have voiced their concerns. The ACLU has warned that the “unchecked power” of big tech should concern all Americans, while former Democratic congresswoman Tulsi Gabbard has critiqued her colleagues for “cheering for free speech shutdowns by monopolistic tech companies.” We must look past politics to see the greater implications of the actions of big tech. If left unchecked, the damage could be irreversible.

The opinions expressed in this publication are those of the authors. They do not proport to reflect the opinions or views of the Gordon Review, editorial staff, or its members.

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