This was not a positive week for those who value free speech. Freedom of expression was an essential factor in the founding of the United States. Unfortunately, some are more concerned with promoting their ideas without opposition than they are about preserving our right to express ourselves freely.
Recently, Microsoft threatened social media company Gab – whose website is hosted on Microsoft’s Azure platform – over offensive posts. They indicated that if Gab did not have the posts removed, Microsoft would stop hosting them, which could all but destroy the social media platform.
Shortly before Gab was targeted, social media companies went after Alex Jones, a right-leaning commentator, and his company InfoWars. Three platforms simultaneously removed InfoWars’ posts and videos, nearly erasing Jones’ entire social media presence.
Jones is an easy target – many view him as a purveyor of conspiracy theories and questionable information. However, the left does not plan to stop with Jones. Their subsequent actions demonstrate that Jones was just the beginning.
Microsoft Confronts Gab
Microsoft released a statement explaining that they had received a third-party complaint about some posts on the Gab social media platform. They decided that the posts were an incitement of violence, which violates Azure’s terms of service. “We believe we have an important responsibility to ensure that our services are not abused by people and groups seeking to incite violence,” the company said, “Gab.ai is, of course, free to choose otherwise and work with another cloud service provider or host this content itself.”
The posts in question were published by Patrick Little, who ran for the Senate earlier this year. Although Little ran as a Republican, he was he was prohibited by the California Republican Party from joining the GOP convention because of his anti-Semitic comments. Naturally, Little only received 1.4% of the vote.
The posts that Microsoft highlighted were derogatory toward Jews and any reasonable American would see these posts as offensive. Some would even agree that they could represent an incitement of violence. While nobody is going to shed a tear over Little being forced to remove his messages, the wider implications of removing social media posts for political reasons could be reason for concern.
Microsoft is a private entity; it can take any action it wishes in this regard. But what happens when they decide to make similar threats based on speech that is much less abhorrent? It doesn’t take much imagination to determine how far this tendency can go, especially since the left has been trying to limit even mainstream conservative views on social media.
YouTube Targets Climate Change Skeptics
YouTube has recently decided to add “fact checks” to videos that question climate change. According to Buzzfeed News, the company implemented this fact-checking system in July to “combat the rampant misinformation and conspiratorial fodder in its platform.”
Climate change isn’t the only issue on which YouTube believes people need fact checkers. In March, the company announced that it would include descriptions from Wikipedia and Encyclopedia Britannica with videos on topics that could promote conspiracy theories. Examples would include theories about the moon landing or the Oklahoma City bombing.
It appears that YouTube could be slowly implementing a campaign designed to preemptively discredit content with which they do not agree. Anthony Leiserowitz, director of the Yale Program on Climate Change Communication, told Buzzfeed that the company’s move “Might be confusing to some people, but that’s probably better than just accepting the denier video at face value.”
The company has not released the full list of topics on which it will provide fact checks, but it could be a reason for concern to conservatives, who have already been targeted by YouTube.
Regulating Internet Speech
The efforts against free speech are not only limited to the private sector. Libertarian website Reason recently reported that Democratic lawmakers are passing around plans for regulating speech on the internet.
Senate Intelligence Committee Vice Chairman Mark Warner (D-VA) wrote a paper discussing potential options for the government regarding the regulation of internet speech. The document includes proposals for “combating disinformation,” “protecting user privacy,” and “promoting competition in the tech space.”
According to Reason, the document suggests that government could require platforms to “label bot accounts or do more to identify authentic accounts, with the threat of sanction by the Federal Trade Commission if they fail to do so.” Warner also suggests that these platforms could be liable for claims of “defamation, invasion of privacy, false light, and public disclosure of private facts” for content posted on these platforms.
These are only a few of the regulations that the document recommends. And how does Warner justify these proposals? Why it’s the Russians of course! Beyond attempting to interfere in the 2016 elections, the Kremlin has also spread disinformation in the past, including reports demeaning Martin Luther King Jr. and accusing the U.S. government of disseminating the AIDS virus.
The Beginning Of The End
There are currently no overt efforts to repeal the section of the First Amendment that protects our right to free speech. However, the spirit of this law is under attack. While the left has not yet changed the Constitution, they have made moves to tamp down on speech that contradicts their ideology. Instead of respecting the idea that everyone should be able to express their views, they strive to prevent certain views from entering public discourse.
Private entities that enforce rules regarding free speech are not violating the First Amendment; they are allowed to regulate the content that appears on their platforms. Unfortunately, instead of only targeting speech that is blatantly aggressive, they are using their power to silence even normal, everyday conservative views.
The left has already shown they are willing to attack one of the United States’ most important values in its attempts to stifle free speech. It is clear that they are gradually attempting to erode the obstacles to silencing certain Americans – and if they are not stopped, America could be seeing an end to the idea of free speech.