Free Speech in the Private Sector

Assaults on free speech may be the most pressing issue of our time.  Anyone reading this blog has surely witnessed the deplatforming of conservative figures under nebulous “community guidelines,” as well as the personal and professional ruin that tend to follow.

Indeed, I occasionally fear that my dashed-off ramblings might, in some none-too-distant Orwellian America, be misinterpreted or misapplied as “hate speech”—all it takes is the wrong person complaining.  Of course, this blog’s obscurity is perhaps my best defense—I’m too small to matter.  That said, that fear is one reason I’m pumping up alternative income streams and attempting to boost my SubscribeStar subscriber base; the authoritarian maw of the SJWs grows ever wider.

The constitutional guarantee of free speech, found famously in the First Amendment (the “glamour” amendment), applies only to the government impinging upon our speech.  That check on the government is powerful, indeed, and has spared Americans the lunacy of, say, Britain’s hate speech laws.  We should be thankful for the foresight of the First Congress.

As every Internet wag and cut-rate libertarian will tell you, though, those safeguards only apply to the government’s attempted curtailing of speech.  They will hasten to add that private entities can muzzle you however they please.

That’s all well and good in the vast majority of cases.  Establishments should, broadly speaking, have broad discriminatory powers to deny service for any number of reasons (the ubiquitous “no shoes, no shirt, no service” signs being a relatively benign, commonsense example).  Generally speaking, no one should be forced to provide a service against his or her will.

But we find ourselves in a situation in which private corporations wield such extensive social and economic power, they essentially muzzle the “public square” as such.  Science-fiction author Cory Doctorow makes that case in a lengthy for Locus, “Inaction is a Form of Action.”  It’s a long read, but well worth the time, as it highlights the deleterious effect Big Tech monopolies have had on our public discourse—or the ability to have one at all.

Doctorow paints the scene of a well-funded, well-heeled local restaurant, the “No Politics Diner,” that eventually develops a virtual monopoly in local dining.  Because the company’s policy of “no political discussions” is in force across its properties, locations, and related businesses, free political discussion in the city becomes effectively stifled.  Yes, the streets are still true public space, as are homes, but no one is allowed to discuss politics in anything we might reasonably consider “public” in this scenario.  If you want to talk about politics, you have to join the smokers ten feet from the entrance of almost every business in town.

It’s a fanciful illustration—or, at least, it would be if Big Tech companies weren’t actually doing the same right now.  A handful of major companies—Facebook and Google are the biggest examples—control the means by which we communicate with one another—effectively controlling the means through which our speech is primarily delivered.  Any startups or alternatives are quickly squashed or bought out.

As an example, Doctorow notes the exodus from Facebook to Instagram.  In response, Facebook simply… purchased Instagram.  Those refugee users found themselves—likely unwittingly—back under Facebook’s creepy control.

There is clear precedent for the government to break up monopolistic arrangements.  I believe such power should be wielded cautiously, but Google’s anti-competitiveness far outshines that of Microsoft’s, and the latter went through years of legal troubles simply because it bundled a browser with its operating system.  Google basically spies on us, yet it’s a beloved tech company because it works hand-in-glove with our elites.

I don’t like the government abusing power, but I don’t like government-esque corporate bureaucracies doing so, either.  So, caution be damned.  Break ’em up!

7 thoughts on “Free Speech in the Private Sector

  1. […] “Free Speech in the Private Sector” – This post looked at a lengthy essay from science-fiction author Cory Doctorow, in which he argued that our traditional understanding of freedom of speech is insufficient in addressing tech censorship.  The old libertarian canard that “a private company can set whatever limits on speech it wants” is a worthy ideal, but when the “private company” dominates the public square and effectively makes some forms of expression or some ideas unspeakable, then do we really have free speech? […]

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