Wednesday, January 20, 2021
Home Stateside Big Tech ‘is now the arbiter of free speech’

Big Tech ‘is now the arbiter of free speech’

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WHAT’S to be done about online censorship of conservatives? The one-sided restriction of Right of centre voices for ‘hate speech’ and ‘inciting violence’ (even when calling for peace) has been building for years and went through the roof following events at the US Capitol last week.

Elon Musk, CEO of Tesla and SpaceX, tweeted that Big Tech is now the ‘de facto arbiter of free speech’.

‘A lot of people are going to be super unhappy with West Coast high tech as the de facto arbiter of free speech,’ Musk wrote.

One Twitter user said: ‘West Coast high tech has to make the distinction between banning hate speech and banning speech It hates.’ Musk replied: ‘This is an important distinction.

Here’s what I suggest. The US Federal Government needs to set up a well-resourced commission with a bipartisan political membership to serve as the final arbiter in disputes over freedom of speech with social media companies that supposedly function as platforms, not publishers. It must have big teeth and be empowered by law to compel companies to comply with its decisions.

The political parties in America need to acknowledge that in the internet age private company control of cyberspace is monopolistic and oligarchical and needs to come under greater public accountability. Not full nationalisation, which would be dysfunctional and replace the private oligarchy with a public monopoly that would be no better and lack market responsiveness. But a recognition that these companies are providing the infrastructure for a crucial public arena of speech and expression and therefore have duties of neutrality and avoiding partisan bias in which the public has a strong interest. These duties must be clearly enforceable by those who have that interest or their representatives in government. 

In fact, these duties are already widely acknowledged, hence the Section 230 exemptions from liability for internet companies said to be platforms not publishers. But it is the ability to enforce the duties that is currently lacking and leading to such egregious breaches. 

Private control with no recourse to public authority has failed to uphold the duty to be fair to conservative voices and I can’t see the courts taking on the onerous arbitration function. The government has to act. This is what freedom of speech requires in the internet age. The US Government, guided by its own admirable Constitutional protections for free speech, must take on this task on behalf of internet users around the world.

Biden obviously won’t do this – the companies are on his side, at least for now. But the Republicans need to have a plan to implement next time they have power. If they don’t, conservative voices will continue to be shut out of the electronic public square by the corporate Left, or allowed to participate only on its terms.

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Will Jones
Dr Will Jones is a maths graduate with a PhD in political philosophy and author of Evangelical Social Theology: Past and Present (Grove, 2017).He blogs at https://faith-and-politics.com/

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