Recently, millions of Twitter followers reportedly left this company due to continued censorship of viewpoints and President Donald Trump’s permanent ban. Many visited Parler’s more open forum – making it number one in the Apple App Store. Apple, Google and other companies then cut off Parler, which has now been shut down. In this way, these companies eliminate any alternative to their own controlled platforms. It’s a major threat to freedom of expression. However, the silence from academia and many free speech advocates is striking and appalling.
Apple issued a statement: “We have always supported different points of view that are represented in the App Store, but there is no place on our platform for threats from violence and illegal activity.” So Parler can only operate if Apple and Google are convinced that they are applying the same controversial guidelines of censorship. Parler is based on the original concept of the Internet as an open forum for free speech.
While I know little about Parler, it doesn’t matter that this is an alternative forum for free speech. I am an unabashed internet originalist. I have long spoken out against the demand for censorship on the pretext of creating an “honest Internet”. We discussed how writers, editors, commentators, and scholars have responded to increasing calls for censorship and language control, including President-elect Joe Biden and his key advisors. The erosion of free speech has been radically accelerated by the big tech and social media companies. The level of censorship and visual regulation has raised questions about a new type of state media in which corporations with political allies drive an ideological agenda.
As I wrote earlier, we are witnessing the death of free speech on the Internet. Of particular concern is the bypassing of scholars and reporters that this is not a real free speech issue as they are private companies. The first amendment aims to address government restrictions on freedom of expression. As a private company, Twitter is not subject to this change. However, private companies can destroy freedom of expression through private censorship. It’s called the “Little Brother Problem”. President Trump can be punished for turning a “little brother” into a “big brother” problem. However, this changes the fundamental threat to freedom of expression. This is denial of freedom of speech, a principle that goes beyond the first change. Indeed, some of us consider free speech a human right.
Consider racial or gender discrimination. It would be wrong for federal law to just ban such government discrimination. The same goes for freedom of speech. The first change is limited to government censorship, but freedom of expression is not limited in the same way. Those of us who believe in freedom of speech as a human right believe that it is morally wrong to deny it as a private or state entity. This does not mean that there are no differences between public and private measures. For example, companies can control freedom of speech in the workplace. You have a recognized right to freedom of expression. However, the social media companies were set up as language forums. Indeed, they sought immunity from the false assertion that they were not making editorial decisions or regulating their positions. Nobody says these companies are breaking the law by denying freedom of expression. We say they deny freedom of speech as companies that offer language platforms.
If Pelosi asked Verizon or Sprint to cut calls to prevent people from saying wrong or misleading things, the public would be outraged. Twitter has the same communication function between the contracting parties. It simply enables thousands of people to participate in such a digital exchange. These people do not sign up for an exchange of ideas just to have Dorsey or some other internet overlord monitor their conversations and “protect” them from incorrect or harmful thoughts.
Much of our freedom of speech today occurs on personal websites like Twitter and Facebook. The Democrats want private companies to censor or flag statements that are believed to be misleading. Such a system would escape the First Amendment conflict, but would be more likely to affect freedom of speech than direct government surveillance.