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.

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(4) comments

Steve Rip

What would you propose to correct the situation? This piece is full of complaints about the way things are but fails to propose corrective actions. I even agree that making platforms difficult to access sets a dangerous precedent - but these companies are completely within their rights to do so and there's a very real risk their revenues are hurt if they don't act. Would you prefer the Federal government tell private companies what they must allow or block on their websites? Does the government need to directly moderate all posts across all social media sites to prevent the posting of illegal speech not covered by the First Amendment? That sounds more terrifying than allowing private companies to navigate what they allow on their platforms.

Section 230 is the main reason social media sites - and forums like this - exist. It protects the MDJ from being sued for me posting illegal speech on their website. Section 230, and the protections it provides, is one of the main reasons so many successful online platforms are registered and hosted in the USA as opposed to cheaper overseas data centers - keeping some high-paying IT jobs here. Repealing Section 230 would cripple smaller services that do not have the resources to effectively moderate posts on their site, stifle digital innovation, send more IT jobs overseas, and encourage consolidation in the space which gives consumers fewer options.

I assume, however, that you would prefer these social media platforms to allow all speech that isn't clearly excluded from First Amendment coverage? That they be 'fair' even if they're not legally required to do so. That they should not moderate baseless, egregious lies about our election process and the results of it - arguably a direct attack on faith in our free and fair democratic processes. What if allowing all these posts doesn't sit well with the majority of their users and their revenues fall? What if their brand name and corporate image is tarnished? Do we need the government to overrule the free market in this industry? All so that we can say these few sites are 'fair'? Even if you try to squeeze social media companies into something like the revoked fairness doctrine of the FCC, they would meet the criteria: 1) Presenting issues of public interest and, 2) allowing contrasting views on them (as long as they obey the ToS).

It's easy to point a finger at major social media platforms and call them unfair or bad (even if they are entirely within their rights as a private company), but online 'censorship' is a nuanced and extremely complex issue to address effectively. I didn't even get into the algorithms used to identify posts as potentially problematic! Perhaps S.230 needs some minor refinement or adjustment, but I'm not sure how that should be accomplished exactly. Simplifying the issue, as this piece does, is an attempt to fan the flames against a widely misunderstood law, technology, and industry.

Howard Peterson

Steve, You sound like a very intelligent person so tell me in words that I can understand how social media companies have gotten so powerful that they can censor the President of the US? Please tell me also how social media can censor Parler & literally force it out of business? Please tell me how social media and MSM can censor the Hiden Biden laptop stories just before election? Presumably, there are still first amendment rights of free speech in this country but they are quickly deteriorating into the socialist/communist doctrines in that the citizens will be told what "we the people with power" want them to hear. I, along with others, have been censored by Facebook on this newspaper's website. This is just 100% wrong! Freedom is why the founding father's of this country left England and social media needs to stay out of our lives and businesses.

Howard Peterson

Whoops....I meant to say Hunter Biden above. I have no idea why I typed Hiden Biden......

Howard Peterson

Steve,

I'm waiting.....Were my questions too tough?

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