Big Tech’s Escalating War on Free Speech

On June 19, 2017, the U.S. Supreme Court upheld 9-0 the right to freedom of speechincluding “hate speech.” As Justice Samuel Alito wrote for the court: “The proudest boast of our free speech jurisprudence is that we protect the freedom to express the thought that we hate.” Justice Anthony Kennedy added in a concurring opinion: “A law that can be directed against speech found offensive to some portion of the public can be turned against minority and dissenting views to the detriment of all.”

Tell that to big tech. Because for them, “hate speech” is any point of view opposed to the political agenda favored by the people who run their industry and control the platforms that have become the 21st-century version of a public square.

While this is an ongoing story, it is important to understand the theme. It is not “big tech platforms censor conservative and nationalist speech by defining it as ‘hate speech.’” Rather, the theme is more accurately and ominously characterized as “big tech platforms are continuously widening the criteria for what sorts of conservative and nationalist content are defined as ‘hate speech.’”

The first big wave of censorship broke in 2017 when websites offering full-blown neo-Nazi content, such as the notorious Daily Stormer, were deplatformed. Nobody wanted to defend the right of these content creators to go on publishing, even though in principle, they still should have had “the freedom to express the thought that we hate.”

The next wave of deplatforming took place in the months leading up to the 2018 midterm elections. Within a few days in early August of that year, Alex Jones of “Infowars” was expelled from Apple podcasts, Facebook, Spotify, and YouTube. On September 6, Twitter followed suit. On September 8, Apple banned Alex Jones’s InfoWars app from its industry-dominating App Store. Jones was virtually erased. Prior to that, Jones had 2.4 million YouTube subscribers, all gone; 830,000 Twitter followers, purged; his Apple podcast archives were deleted; his Facebook page, with 2.5 million followers, wiped out.

What did Jones do? His content was attacked, with some justification, as often concocted. He was stigmatized as a “conspiracy theorist.” But Jones never violated U.S. law. He never incited actions to harm others or distributed obscene materials, which are the two primary areas not protected by the First Amendment. 

Nationalist and Conservative Content Under Ongoing Attack

Those familiar with Alex Jones, know that his biggest crime was neither hate speech, nor being loose with his facts, nor being “hateful.” What made Jones intolerable to the tech giants is his allegiance to President Trump and, more generally, his opposition to globalism. 

If you review which content creators have been banned, shadowbanned, or demonetized, you will find sites banned across all ideologies and niches for failing to adhere to U.S. laws governing free speech. But once you pass beyond U.S. law to “hate speech,” the vast majority of big tech censorship seems only to afflict conservatives and nationalists. The cancel campaign is unrelenting and the net is cast wider than ever.

When big tech decides to suppress information that might run counter, say, to the mainstream anti-Trump leftist narrative as propagandized by ABC Nightly “News,” they have plenty of support from the leftist activist community. The current “Stop Hate For Profit” campaign has released a chilling set of “recommendations” to Facebook, their latest target, that includes the following:

Establish and empower permanent civil rights infrastructure including C-suite level executive with civil rights expertise to evaluate products and policies for discrimination, bias, and hate . . . submit to regular, third party, independent audits of identity-based hate and misinformation with summary results published on a publicly accessible website . . . find and remove public and private groups focused on white supremacy, militia, antisemitism, violent conspiracies, Holocaust denialism, vaccine misinformation, and climate denialism . . . create an internal mechanism to automatically flag hateful content in private groups for human review . . . ensure accuracy in political and voting matters by eliminating the politician exemption.

Any one of these measures should terrify anyone hoping to preserve any sort of open public square. Put a commissar into Facebook to monitor content? Allow outside content auditors? Censor “climate denialism”? Monitor private groups? Prevent politicians from uttering campaign rhetoric? This is tyranny. But the American Left is incredibly powerful because they use their institutional power via unions, academia, and the press to pressure corporate advertisers.

It isn’t as if the major corporations don’t already support much of the leftist agenda. They want immigration to access cheap labor, just as they want to be able to outsource jobs to find even cheaper labor. If the Left is engaged in calling people opposed to what they want racists, why not join them? And why not boycott Facebook, or any other monopoly platform, until they comply with these demands? It’s not as if the American Right has the institutional clout to defend free speech. 

Go with the flow. It’s profitable.

In November 2019, YouTube banned Red Ice (still available on BitChute), a channel that took positions that offended many people, especially leftists, but they relied on facts and logic and sourced their material more responsibly than many surviving, popular platforms. Of course, defending Red Ice does not require agreeing with everything they espouse. They can be defended on principle. They did not violate U.S. law, and more to the point, the biases they displayed, and the criticisms they offered, would not have earned them banishment if they had been voiced from the opposite point of view.

This bears repeating, especially now. How many memes survive and go viral that describe white people and Western Civilization as racist and oppressive? There are writers for the New York Times (Sarah Jeong and Nikole Hannah-Jones among the most infamous) who have described white people in terms that are far more offensive and incendiary than anything that Lana Lokteff ever said on Red Ice. And they write for “America’s newspaper of record”! If these women were white, writing this way about nonwhites, they would be marginalized. If they broke out, they would be banned. Overnight.

In an interview conducted shortly after her deplatforming, Lokteff had this to say about internet censorship: “The best course of action is to talk about everything out in the open, more talking. If an idea is harmful or just awful, best to talk about why that is and air everything out from every angle. The best argument wins. The truth should not fear any inquisition. If we do not, that is what creates desperate people doing radical things to be heard.”

The Latest Wave of Online Censorship

The latest major big tech deplatforming occurred June 28, when YouTube banned Stefan Molyneux, one of the original progenitors of the Intellectual Dark Web. Whatever else may be said about Molyneux, he is intellectually honest. He explored topics that are utterly taboo because he believed they merited public discussion and he was willing to stick his neck out to have that conversation. It is perhaps his honesty as well as his ability to broach these subjects with grace, dignity, and compassion, that made his banishment signify a new threshold for the big tech censors. Molyneux, with 1 million subscribers and major breakout potential, was a threat

And so he was silenced.

In a brief statement released on his Twitter page, Molyneux described what’s happening right now:

The book burning is underway. Myself and many other dissidents and other anti-communists, intellectuals, and speakers have also had channels destroyed across a wide variety of platforms, within the span of only one hour, in what I assume is a highly coordinated effort to silence us. The goal is to remove the middle, to remove those of us who are looking for peaceful solutions, rational solutions, philosophical solutions to social differences, to take us out so that there is no center to society and everyone can gravitate to the extremes wherein the tinderbox of violence can be lit.

Molyneux goes on to urge his followers to not give up on peaceful solutions to social differences. He claims it is not too late and that there “is still incredible technology that we can use to further the rational and philosophical discussion of issues within society and I’m begging you, please, stay in the conversation.”

Big-tech censorship is consistent with what the major television networks have been doing. For anyone who bothers even to peruse alternative media, this is all an insult to their intelligence and integrity. The problem for big tech and network television is that alternative media proliferates at a rate far too fecund for them to censor all of it. Still, big tech is big enough to contain it, and at least for now, they are doing a very good job of that.

What the leftist establishment denies—from the corporate boardrooms to big tech to mainstream media—is that truth cannot and will not be permanently suppressed. Leftist ideology, however cultivated, does not constitute reality. Ultimately, objective truth governs reality. Only by allowing freedom of speech as expressed in the U.S. Constitution, and upheld by the U.S. Supreme Court, can truth emerge from vigorous, often unpleasant debate.

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About Edward Ring

Edward Ring is a senior fellow of the Center for American Greatness. He is also the director of water and energy policy for the California Policy Center, which he co-founded in 2013 and served as its first president. Ring is the author of Fixing California: Abundance, Pragmatism, Optimism (2021) and The Abundance Choice: Our Fight for More Water in California (2022).

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