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Tony Perkins / May 30, 2020

Trump to Big Tech: Time to Shift Back Into Neutral

To most of us, 24 sounds pretty young. But in the tech world, where things literally change overnight, a policy two and a half decades old is a virtual fossil.

To most of us, 24 sounds pretty young. But in the tech world, where things literally change overnight, a policy two and a half decades old is a virtual fossil. When Bill Clinton signed the Telecommunications Act into law in 1996, we were just getting used to the internet. There was no Twitter or Facebook — no YouTube, Instagram, or TikTok. Even Google was a full two years away. Nobody could have predicted this thing called social media. Now, a generation later, it’s got a cutting-edge world that we’re still trying to govern with stuffy, outdated laws. And the explosion of censorship is letting us know: it’s not working.

Unfortunately, the internet isn’t the online space it used to be. In the early days, Rep. Louie Gohmert (R-Texas) told me on “Washington Watch,” everyone believed the internet was just “a town square — like Hyde Park in London — where anybody could come and say whatever they wanted.” Back then, it made sense to protect that space — to reward the people providing this open forum from the liability of encouraging this kind of free speech. So, Congress added language to the bill, Section 230, which made these platforms immune from the kinds of lawsuits other media outlets face.

Over time, though, companies stopped using this part of the law as a shield and started using it as a weapon to choke off speech and get away with it. Thousands of conservatives know this from experience, if Twitter suspends your account or if YouTube takes down your video because they don’t like pro-life messages, there’s really nothing you can do about it. Section 230 means these companies can silence you for any reason and never be held accountable. It’s the opposite of the traditional media, where any newspaper that prints something untrue or slanderous can be sued. When Congress inserted those 26 words of the law, they were assuming that Big Tech wouldn’t put their finger on the scales. Years later, we know: it’s not just their fingers on the scales — it’s the entire social media operation.

President Trump, like a lot of Americans, is sick of giving these monopolies a free pass. If they want to regulate and censor speech, then they shouldn’t be treated like a neutral marketplace of ideas. “There’s no precedent in American history for so small a number of corporations to control so large a sphere of interaction,” he said. “They’ve had unchecked power to censor, restrict, edit, shape, hide, alter virtually any form of communication between private citizens and public audiences.” It must stop, he insisted. “We cannot allow a limited number of online platforms to handpick the speech that Americans may access and convey online.”

Sitting in the Oval Office, he took the first stab at holding these tech giants in check with an executive order that aims to return these spaces to the free and fair ideals they used to value. It’s time, he believes, to take away the liability shields these companies have been hiding behind. Louie agrees. “When they… start picking and choosing and editing, then they have to be liable like newspapers are.” On the flip side, if they want to keep their immunity, “they’re going to have to quit choosing who they think is telling the truth and who isn’t.”

At the end of the day, the president is leaving this up to Big Tech. He’s not calling for those companies, who’ve been so openly hostile to his administration, to be censored. He’s saying, “Look, if you’re going to hold yourself out as a virtual public square, let people say what they want. Don’t pick sides.” As Louie explained, there’s a provision in the order that says companies have to be acting in good faith if they want to take advantage of these protections. “And I think the president’s got a decent argument here. They’re not acting in good faith. They’re not censoring anything that Biden lies about or Democrats lie about. They’re only censoring what the president said that turned out to be true…”

Of course, these are always tricky issues when the government crosses into the private sector. Even the president conceded that the order would probably be challenged in court. “What isn’t?” he joked. And yes, it will take a team of attorneys and communications experts to navigate this delicate area of rights and responsibilities. But it’s only fair to expect that if the private sector wants to take advantage of the government’s benefits, then it needs to play by the government rules.

Even Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg has been increasingly critical of the platforms that police content. “We have a different policy than, I think, Twitter on this," he said on Fox this week. "I just believe strongly that Facebook shouldn’t be the arbiter of truth of everything that people say online. In general, private companies probably shouldn’t be — especially these platform companies — shouldn’t be in the position of doing that.”

At the end of the day, nobody’s forcing these companies to run their platforms objectively. They’re simply saying that if they don’t, then they shouldn’t reap the benefits of those who do.

Originally published here.

‘This Is an Existential Attack. Beijing Means Harm.’

Hong Kong is still 27 years away from Chinese control — and already the situation is a powder keg. After waves of violence and mass arrests, even the coronavirus couldn’t keep people from spilling into the streets to protest Beijing’s latest attempt at a political takeover. From shopping districts to banks, people of all ages joined huge groups, declaring independence while police fired water cannons, tear gas, and rubber bullets into the crowd. “Fight for freedom, stand with Hong Kong!" they shouted.

From thousands of miles away, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo watched the situation unfold with the same anxiety as the rest of the world. "While the U.S. once hoped that a free and prosperous Hong Kong would provide a model for authoritarian China, it is now clear that China is modeling Hong Kong after itself.” Spurred on by what China calls “National Security Legislation,” it’s obvious to the people of Britain’s former colony that Beijing isn’t going to wait until 2047 to exercise its power over the region. The law, Asia expert Gordon Chang explained on “Washington Watch,” takes away any ruse of self-governance. “The enactment of Article 23… just bypasses Hong Kong altogether and [its] Legislative Council. It really means that China has taken over.”

In essence, “China has basically closed off the political process,” which is dangerous since, as Gordon points out, “this struggle will now be waged in the streets.” “There’ll be the large protests of middle-class Hong Kong people, you know, [one] to two million people.” And that only means China will clamp down harder. “They might even bring in the People’s Liberation Army or the People’s Armed Police. And then it would really be open warfare.”

So far, the Chinese have been able to use the coronavirus to restrict Hong Kong’s movement, canceling events and vigils and other public gatherings and demonstrations. And while Hong Kong’s executive, Carrie Lam, insists this new law won’t affect people’s rights, no one really believes that. “She’ll say anything that Beijing tells her to say. She hasn’t been governing Hong Kong in her own right for about a year. When we saw these protests began last April, she was basically put into the back seat and Beijing was running the territory.”

As people like Secretary Pompeo know, the real danger here isn’t just to Hong Kong. Once China gets its hands on that territory, there’s no reason to think they’ll stop. They have an insatiable appetite to control everything around them and impose their communist ideology on countries that eclipse them in their economic power, even though they’re smaller, because they allow for freedom.

“China basically has a system which they talk about this going back to the imperial era…where Beijing is the only legitimate society under heaven, which means that the United States would not, for instance, be sovereign. And this really is expansive. You know, many people say, ‘Well, China is trying to compete with the U.S. That’s okay,’” Gordon insists. “Competition is part of the current international order. But what Beijing is trying to do is… overthrow the international system and to replace it with something that the Chinese emperors would be familiar with.”

Taiwan would be next. We’ve even seen China’s troops deep in Indian territory — while they provoke other countries around the South and East China Seas. “So Beijing is going after everybody at the same time, which is really scary,” Gordon warns, “because they’re taking on all their neighbors. And they’re taking on the U.S. because the tempo of dangerous intercepts of the U.S. Navy has increased recently.”

“We’ve got to defend ourselves,” Gordon insisted. “This is an existential attack. Beijing means us harm.” All anyone has to do is look at this pandemic and realize that. “They deliberately released the coronavirus beyond their borders, which means that 100,000 Americans who have died were really killed by China. So this is an attack that we cannot ignore. And President Trump is doing everything he can. [But] we’re going to have to support him, because… he’s the only person who can stand up between us and China.”

Originally published here.

Fighting Fire with Freedom!

DOJ is sure staying busy putting out constitutional fires in states with less than cooperative governors. As more parts of the country are starting to reopen, are things getting better or worse for churches? Find out from the man in charge of the civil liberties effort: Assistant Attorney General Eric Dreiband.

Originally published here.

This is a publication of the Family Research Council. Mr. Perkins is president of FRC.

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