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Political Editors / June 20, 2019

Big Government Is Wrong Solution for Big Tech Censorship

Lawmakers treat speech infringement as an excuse to increase government control.

Big Tech has a censorship problem over which free-speech advocates particularly on the Right have been increasingly ringing alarm bells. But the solution to tackling this growing leftist threat to Liberty is hardly clear, nor is it easily agreed upon.

Free-market absolutists argue against any government action, suggesting that doing so only adds to an already oversized bureaucratic state when, given time, the market will eventually self-correct. While the concern over increased bureaucracy is valid, this argument naively contends that the problem is really a rather minor one if it’s one at all, and that what is happening in Silicon Valley is merely the free market at work. This presumes the market to be truly free from corrupt actors and practices if only left to itself.

However, what many conservatives have observed is the very real infringement on free speech through Big Tech’s increasingly active hostility — wrapped in the virtue-signaling guise of combating “hate speech.” As these Silicon Valley giants steadily have increased their market share in social media to virtual monopolies, they have in turn ratcheted up their efforts to censor conservative political speech.

In essence, the question is whether Google, Facebook, Twitter, et. al are carriers or publishers. If they are carriers, they shouldn’t be censoring content. If they are publishers, they should be liable for what they carry. But they’re trying to have it both ways, claiming they’re not liable (carriers) while censoring content (publishers).

As the cries over Big Tech’s speech-squelching practices have grown louder, lawmakers are increasingly taking notice and, unfortunately, taking advantage. The latest example comes from Sen. Josh Hawley (R-MO), who recently introduced a measure to amend Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act. His measure, as Reason’s Elizabeth Nolan Brown reports, “prevents individual users of internet platforms and the companies that run them from being treated as legally indistinguishable from one another.” That’s huge, she says, because, “Without it, digital companies and the users of their products (i.e., all of us) could be sued in civil court or subject to state criminal prosecution over content and messages created and published by others.”

“State attorneys general have been howling about Section 230 for more than a decade because it means that only the federal government can criminally prosecute internet intermediaries,” Brown observes. “Thus, state prosecutors don’t have the opportunity to seize assets and bring in big financial settlements themselves.”

Brown further contends that Hawley’s bill would give the government control over speech online, meaning the “solution” would be worse than the problem. Hawley’s bill essentially would resurrect the infamous “Fairness Doctrine,” which conservatives rightly condemn for its negative effect on free speech and its promotion of the establishment media over and against non-mainstream voices. The fact of the matter is that this is a government power grab — one that makes the free-market absolutists’ argument for them.

The big problem is censorship of free speech, whether it comes from Big Tech monopolies or Big Government bureaucracy. The solution needs to be one that guards everyone’s freedom of speech, while at the same time avoiding overregulation. As we have suggested, the enforcement of anti-trust laws to break up these massive tech giants may be the best solution.

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