In 2012, two gay men visited a small bakery in Lakewood, Colorado asking for a cake for their upcoming wedding ceremony. The owner of the shop, Jack Phillips, politely informed them that he could not provide a custom wedding cake for a gay wedding due to his Christian beliefs, but he offered to sell them any other baked good in stock. The couple left and promptly filed a human rights complaint with the Colorado Civil Rights Commission, which sided with the couple and ordered Phillips to bake the cake, pay a fine, and attend mandatory anti-discrimination training.
Phillips appealed the decision, and the ensuing six years were a nightmare of litigation, fines, and court cases, culminating in arguments presented to the Supreme Court. But even after the Supreme Court sided with Phillips and chastised the Civil Rights Commission for its overreach, still the LGBT lobby would not leave the matter alone. A few years later, Phillips was in court yet again for declining to make a cake, this time a cake meant to honor a man’s “transition” into a woman (a request made by a trans activist who was clearly looking for an excuse to sue).
Through all of this, the media, the Democrat Party, and the Left, have been nearly unanimous in their position that Jack Phillips is guilty of unspeakable human rights violations, and that he should not have the right to refuse service to anyone on account of his own personal convictions. They have argued stridently for years that allowing a man like Phillips to decline to make a custom wedding cake for a gay wedding would lead to the alienation and ostracization of certain groups of people, and that such an outcome is untenable. The same things have been said about florists who don’t want to provide flowers for gay weddings, and t-shirt companies that don’t want to make t-shirts for gay pride parades, etc. In all of these cases, the Left has absolutely rejected the freedom of association and free enterprise arguments, and insisted that, for the sake of the greater good, business owners sometimes must be forced to provide services they don’t want to provide.
This is all important background when we consider recent actions by the most powerful Big Tech companies in the world. Using the riot on Capitol Hill as an excuse to do something that they were almost certainly going to do anyway, Twitter last week permanently banned Donald Trump — that is, the sitting President of the United States — from its platform. Facebook, Snapchat, and Instagram announced similar measures. Reddit got into the act, banning the subreddit dedicated to Trump. At the same time, Twitter embarked on what appears to be a massive purge of conservative accounts, as conservatives with large followings experienced significant drops in their follower counts. I lost around 25,000 in the span of two days, which doesn’t come close to winning the prize for the steepest fall.
This is not the first time that these companies have teamed up to purge and punish the cultural heretics. Usually, when these things happen, those on the Left will sneer that we conservatives should make our own social media sites so that we can engage in wrongthink out of view and away from polite society. As it happens, some on the right have done exactly that with sites like Parler. And Parler, at first, experienced a dramatic surge in traffic this past week, as right-leaning refugees poured in from the larger social media platforms. But then the next shoe dropped. Amazon, Apple, and Google announced that they would be banning Parler from their servers and app stores. Parler CEO John Matze said that all of the site’s vendors — including text message services, email providers, and even their lawyers — abandoned them all at once, on the same day. Parler will now be down for the foreseeable future, until they figure out how to exist on the internet while being blacklisted by Apple, Amazon and Google.
The stated reason for this move against Parler is that somehow, in an unspecified way, Parler is violating unclear rules against violence, illegal activity, incitement and obscene content. But it goes without saying that these companies have not cracked down consistently on users who celebrate or encourage BLM riots, nor have Apple, Google, or Amazon punished any social media sites that play host to such content. And as for illegal activity, many murders and rapes have been linked to hook up apps like Grindr and Tinder, and yet, again, there has been no crackdown on such a large scale, or even on a smaller scale.
The reasons given do not hold up to the slightest scrutiny. The truth is painfully obvious: the wealthiest and most powerful companies in the world have engaged in a coordinated campaign to silence ideologically dissenting voices and drive them from the public square.
The people who sit by and watch this approvingly, applauding the purge and calling for more of it, are the exact same people who have issued many ominous warnings about the dire consequences of allowing a small bakery in Colorado to decline to make customized cakes for gay weddings. Somehow, they argue, gay couples who might have to drive a mile down the road to a different cakeshop in the same town to get a customized pastry are being saddled with a traumatizing burden, and if we don’t impose harsh legal penalties on the bakery that refused them, we risk the eventual exclusion of all gay people from modern society. Yet, they continue, there is no such risk, and no imaginable problem, with allowing multi-billion dollar tech companies to collaborate with each other to expel politically inconvenient voices, and relegate them permanently to the backwaters and ghettos of the internet. They do not believe that the small town bakery has any claim to freedom of association or free enterprise, but they will happily afford those considerations to the billion-dollar conglomerates who control almost every aspect of our lives.
This, of course, is completely backwards. And it could only be so backwards because the people who hold this backwards view are not worried about intellectual consistency and are not bothered by their own staggering lack of integrity. In reality, there is no significant downside, no serious consequence, to a small business owner in middle America somewhere choosing not to provide a service for a ceremony he opposes for religious reasons. At most, on the part of the spurned customer, it amounts to mildly hurt feelings and a minor inconvenience. There are however cataclysmic downsides and outright dystopian consequences to allowing the companies that essentially control the entire internet to engage in coordinated ideological discrimination on this scale.
The other difference between the two situations is that a bakery is merely a bakery — a small private business and nothing more. But what are Facebook and Twitter? Platforms? Publishers? Utilities? The answer to that question determines whether they have the right to do what they’re doing. And if they do currently have the legal right, the next question is whether they ought to have it, and whether laws should be changed so that they don’t. I cannot see how any rational and honest person could possibly argue that the bakery doesn’t and shouldn’t have the right to decline one form of service to one customer, yet the Big Tech monopolies do and should have the right to ban millions from all of their services, effectively muting their voices in the public sphere and excluding them from the national conversation.
There is a purist libertarian argument that defends both the Big Tech monopoly and the bakery on an equal basis, but that is not the argument that most of the people defending Big Tech, in this case, are making. At any rate, I think it’s a bad argument. Big Tech is in a class by itself because of the stranglehold it has on all of our lives, no matter if we like it or not. The question is not whether they should be allowed to inconvenience us or bruise our egos, but whether they should be allowed to control us, censor us, rule us. The answer is that they should not be allowed to do so. They should be reined in. They should be held to basic standards of ethics, fairness, and transparency. But unfortunately, the next part of the answer is that, though they shouldn’t be allowed to do what they’re doing, they have been allowed to do it, and Trump and the GOP didn’t do anything to prevent it when they had the power.
So, this is where we are now. And it’s not going to stop. The Left cannot win based solely on its ideas, through argument or advocacy. They know it, and that’s why they are done with arguing. Instead, they will just ensure that your ideas are not heard in the first place.
The views expressed in this opinion piece are the author’s own and do not necessarily represent those of The Daily Wire.