October 19, 2020

Break Up Big Tech Before It Kills Free Speech

The censorship of a major election-related story about the Bidens is unconscionable.

“I want to start by making something very clear: We don’t consider political viewpoints, perspectives, or party affiliation in any of our policies or enforcement decisions. Period. Impartiality is our guiding principle.” —Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey speaking to the House Energy and Commerce Committee on Twitter Transparency and Accountability, September 5, 2018

That above assertion is, quite simply, a bald-faced lie. Last week in equally infuriating and painfully transparent measures, Dorsey and his partner in suppression, Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg, made it plain that the special exemption they’ve been given by Congress, whereby they are considered neutral “platforms” rather than “news publishers,” is an utter sham.

Nonetheless, due to the calculated and bipartisan impotence of Congress, Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act has been bastardized beyond recognition. The most relevant part of the section is as follows:

Section (c) Protection for “Good Samaritan” blocking and screening of offensive material
(1) Treatment of publisher or speaker
No provider or user of an interactive computer service shall be treated as the publisher or speaker of any information provided by another information content provider.
(2) Civil liability
No provider or user of an interactive computer service shall be held liable on account of —
(A) any action voluntarily taken in good faith to restrict access to, or availability of, material that the provider or user considers to be obscene, lewd, lascivious, filthy, excessively violent, harassing, or otherwise objectionable, whether or not such material is constitutionally protected; or
(B) any action taken to enable or make available to information content providers or others the technical means to restrict access to material described in paragraph (1).

Are sentient Americans opposed to believe it was nothing more than “good faith” that precipitated censorship of a news story published by the New York Post, one of the largest and longest continually published newspapers in the nation? A story that could affect the outcome of the presidential election?

Perhaps Hunter Biden’s crack use and illicit sex was “obscene, lewd, lascivious, filthy, excessively violent, or harassing,” but it’s not a stretch to realize the key phrase was “otherwise objectionable.” That phrase, of course, is itself a highly objectionable and flexible phrase that allows members of Congress to wax indignant about social media double-standards and outright censorship — while doing absolutely nothing about it.

Yet note the insidiousness in play here. Twitter begins by censoring the New York Post story, and then actively undermines it by promoting and trending a Washington Post story that supposedly refutes it. If this contemptible feedback loop sounds familiar, that’s because similar machinations were employed by a thoroughly corrupt FBI, which leaked stories to the media and then used those stories to justify obtaining FISA warrants against members of Donald Trump’s team.

Moreover, The Washington Post wasn’t merely content to advocate for censorship. It also wholly mischaracterized what it labeled a “stunning policy reversal” made by Twitter, whereby the social media entity will “remove content only if it’s directly posted by hackers or those acting in concert with them.”

Yet even as it made that ridiculous assertion, the WaPo noted the NY Post story would still be blocked by Twitter “under a policy that prohibits sharing people’s personal information.”

Again, a bald-faced lie. “No similar standard was applied when the New York Times published Trump’s tax returns, even though anyone who had legal access to them is likely to have broken the law in sharing them with the Times,” National Review’s editorial board rightly asserted.

Thus, some personal information is “more equal” than others.

That “more equal” is a phrase coined by George Orwell is quite apropos. “If anybody is around to write history in a generation or two, October 14th 2020 will go down as the first day of a new Year Zero,” columnist Mark Steyn warns. “Yesterday, with less than three weeks to go in a national election in a settled democratic society with an ostensibly free press, the woke billionaires of the social media cartel decided to freeze and/or cancel the Twitter/Facebook accounts of the President’s press secretary, the Trump campaign, Republican Senate candidates and Republican House members. So America is now formally a one-party state, at least as far as fair access to media platforms is concerned.”

What will be done about it? Last Thursday, FCC Chairman Ajit Pai announced that his agency will attempt to clarify the breadth and meaning of Section 230. “Social media companies have a First Amendment right to free speech,” he wrote. “But they do not have a First Amendment right to a special immunity denied to other media outlets, such as newspapers and broadcasters.”

Representative Ken Buck (R-CO) agrees. “Twitter and Facebook’s editorial decisions to block the New York Post’s story, while allowing the President to Iran to issue death threats against United States service members, do not meet the narrow content moderation protections granted to platforms under Section 230,” he stated.

Buck made those assertions in a letter to the Department of Justice — calling for an investigation of social media censorship.

Who’s kidding whom? Calling for a DOJ investigation is a pathetic deflection of responsibility, whereby members of Congress apparently believe they can dump this problem on U.S. Attorney General Bill Barr. Barr’s track record of investigations may be many things, but above all, they are decidedly interminable.

Which may be precisely the point, and nothing illuminates it better than the reality that a photo of a federal subpoena reveals the FBI has had the laptop computer allegedly owned by Hunter Biden since last December.

In short, the notion that the FBI couldn’t verify whether or not Hunter Biden owned that computer, and in turn, the accuracy of the NY Post’s story over the course of 10 months, is utterly preposterous. Moreover, it suggests that Big Tech has nothing to worry about with regard to government regulation of its de facto totalitarian practices.

Thus, as columnist Emily Jashinsky writes, “two of the world’s most powerful corporations are nakedly using their massive influence to interfere in the election on behalf of the Democratic Party. And they’re getting away with it.”

Not just getting away with it, but thumbing their nose at Congress in the process: Facebook and Twitter employed these tactics only a week after the the House Judiciary Subcommittee on Antitrust, Commercial, and Administrative Law released a report summarizing the findings of seven hearings and 1.3 million documents. Its conclusion? Four companies — Amazon, Apple, Facebook, and Google — “have become the kinds of monopolies we last saw in the era of oil barons and railroad tycoons.”

And just like oil barons and railroad tycoons, Big Tech should be broken up. The alternative is plenty of talk but no action, due the inevitable disagreements arising from the different interpretations of Section 230. Disagreements regarding “special immunity” that will continue, even as Big Tech ramps up its censorship of anything a handful of billionaires find ideologically objectionable. The same billionaires who have “surveilled other businesses to identify potential rivals, and have ultimately bought out, copied, or cut off their competitive threats,” as the report further asserts.

Break them up — before they have the power to completely eliminate that argument itself from being publicly disseminated.

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