This week, representatives from Facebook, Google and Twitter will join with European leaders and the prime minister of New Zealand to launch a chilling proposal to curb free speech across the internet. Americans should be alarmed. Internet freedom is being extinguished fast in Europe. How long will it survive in the U.S.?
Social media titans such as Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg have more influence over our freedom than Supreme Court justices or U.S. presidents. But these internet executives are selling out core American principles for the almighty dollar. They'll do whatever a host country demands. In China, Russia and even capitalist Singapore, internet freedom is already dead, without a murmur of protest by Zuckerberg and others.
Standing alongside French president Emmanuel Macron on Friday, Zuckerberg said, "The question of what speech should be acceptable and what is harmful needs to be defined by regulation, by thoughtful governments." You read that correctly — Zuckerberg's endorsement of censorship, a total repudiation of America's commitment to freedom of expression, the freedom that tops our Bill of Rights.
Of course, Zuckerberg was talking to Europeans. Until these foreign governments finalize their censorship regulations, Facebook is relying on leftist groups such as Avaaz to finger accounts for being "divisive." In Spain, France and Italy, Facebook is already removing accounts expressing populist views on NATO, immigration, Muslims and other controversies.
The prime minister of New Zealand is calling for an internet ban on depictions of mass shootings, such as her country's Christchurch massacre, that could incite copycat violence. All agree that's reasonable. But don't be fooled. Europe's censorship goes further, squelching competing ideas and limiting the public's range of political choices. Facebook is glad to oblige.
Here in the U.S., where the Constitution prohibits government from censoring speech, Facebook is doing the dirty work, imposing its own Silicon Valley brand of political correctness. Recently, Facebook banned commentators and provocateurs including Alex Jones, Louis Farrakhan and Milo Yiannopoulos from its platform. Subsequently, Facebook even removed a posting by columnist Michelle Malkin for criticizing this censorship.
Is Zuckerberg ignorant of America's proud history protecting the speech rights of even odious groups such as the neo-Nazis in Skokie, Illinois?
The American Civil Liberties Union condemns Facebook's censorship, cautioning that "every time Facebook makes the choice to remove content, a single company is exercising an unchecked power to silence."
The ACLU warns that conservatives are the targets now but next time, it could be different. James Esseks, director of the ACLU's LGBT and HIV Project, explains that censorship threatens "the movements of the future that are still striving to be heard."
The fact is, internet platforms are more than just private companies. They've become like public utilities. We are just as dependent on Facebook and Google as on the local electric company. ConEdison can't deny us service because of our political views. Facebook shouldn't be allowed to either.
Supreme Court Justice Louis Brandeis once explained that under our Constitution, the only acceptable remedy for evil speech is "more speech, not enforced silence." Government must not limit who speaks in the public square.
Google, Facebook, Twitter and others — though private sector companies — are the new public square.
Don't count on Congress to fix the problem while Democrats control the House. They're on the side of the censors. House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerry Nadler, D-N.Y., is railing that social media companies are not doing enough to "counter" what he calls "vitriolic hate messages."
Instead, expect the courts to step in. Last fall, a conservative nonprofit called Freedom Watch sued Facebook, Google, Twitter and Apple for suppressing "politically conservative content." It's plausible judges will rule that allowing social media platforms to censor political speech destroys the freedom of the public square.
Congressional Democrats are still whining about Russian meddling on the internet. Truth is, less than 0.00008 (eight one hundred thousandths) of the total political tweets during the 2016 contest originated with Russian intelligence.
The biggest threat to a legitimate outcome in 2020 is not foreign interference; it's left-leaning social media giants tilting the election by silencing viewpoints they don't like. It's already happening.
Betsy McCaughey is a former lieutenant governor of New York State. Contact her at [email protected] To find out more about Betsy McCaughey and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate website at www.creators.com.