Even the storm cloud of social media censorship has a silver lining: Mark Zuckerberg is defending free expression.
As Twitter twit Jack Dorsey presumes to censor both the President of the United States and the official White House account, the Facebook CEO decided to take a different tack. Zuckerberg explained that, while he does not agree with much of President Donald Trump’s rhetoric, he does not believe that tech billionaire oligarchs ought to be the arbiters of truth in the public square. In Zuckerberg’s own words:
I’m responsible for reacting not just in my personal capacity but as the leader of an institution committed to free expression. I know many people are upset that we’ve left the President’s posts up, but our position is that we should enable as much expression as possible unless it will cause imminent risk of specific harms or dangers spelled out in clear policies. We looked very closely at the post that discussed the protests in Minnesota to evaluate whether it violated our policies. Although the post had a troubling historical reference, we decided to leave it up because the National Guard references meant we read it as a warning about state action, and we think people need to know if the government is planning to deploy force. Our policy around incitement of violence allows discussion around state use of force, although I think today’s situation raises important questions about what potential limits of that discussion should be. The President later posted again, saying that the original post was warning about the possibility that looting could lead to violence. We decided that this post, which explicitly discouraged violence, also does not violate our policies and is important for people to see.
Conservatives have rightly questioned Facebook‘s commitment to permitting the free exchange of ideas on its platform. I myself did so just a few weeks ago after Facebook announced the first members of its disconcerting Independent Oversight Board. But we must give credit where credit is due, and Zuckerberg‘s defense of free expression comes as a breath of fresh air when so many of his Silicon Valley peers and rivals have chosen to clamp down on speech that contradict the Left’s orthodoxy and threaten its agenda.
Zuckerberg’s decision may also save social media after President Trump’s recent executive order directing the federal agencies to revoke privileges and liability protections granted by Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act from technology companies that behave like politically biased publishers rather than neutral platforms.
Twitter’s selective censorship of conservatives fits that description, as do the actions of Google and YouTube, who may be the worst offenders of all. Revocation of those protections would instantly open the tech giants up to lawsuits that would bankrupt them.
Facebook has also demonstrated bias at times, but conservatives ought to be careful not to paint with too broad a brush in our condemnation of Big Tech. Section 230 allowed the Internet to expand and develop as it did. We the people have enjoyed that growth. We enjoy social media. But we cannot allow a handful of politically biased billionaires to unfairly manipulate the flow of speech and information in our public square.
In a republic such as ours, speech is politics; politics is speech. A tech CEO with an agenda cannot be allowed to decide what the duly elected President of the United States may or may not say. The great achievement of social media has been the expansion of free expression and the breadth of our public square. When they selectively suppress political speech, they undermine the argument for extending to them the special legal protections they need to survive.
Twitter and Google would be wise to follow Facebook’s lead while they still can.
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