Let’s be clear: The right-wing activists who are beginning to wage war on Google, Facebook and Twitter don’t actually need to prove any ill-intent on the part of those media/tech companies. They’re not really interested in a discussion or debate on the merits of their speech, whether or not the companies are within their rights to take action against them when it’s found to be offensive or anything else. All they need to do is make the accusation loudly and frequently enough that the companies feel it’s in their best interest to back down.
This is the culmination of what began two-plus years ago when Facebook was accused by a former contractor of artificially restricting conservative-leaning stories from the Trending News section. At that point Facebook was so afraid of falling into disfavor with Republican lawmakers it bent itself into contortions to glad-hand and appease them. You could argue that moment was the crack in the wall Russia and others needed to fully execute their manipulation of the 2016 elections, taking advantage of a system where everyone was on edge over the mere appearance of bias against right-leaning points of view.
(If you were really conspiratorially-minded you might wonder if that were the plan all along.)
These companies will need to make a decision, and quickly: Continue to cling to the “dumb platform” argument they’ve been making for years in the face of criticism from the right that they’re doing too much to censor they’re messages and criticism from the left that they’re enabling racism, sexism and more. Or finally embrace the reality that they are media companies and build in the same sort of editorial processes – including the involvement of human beings, not just algorithms – that allow them to own an identity, including whatever regulatory requirements that brings with it.
The free speech argument being made only goes so far. None of these companies are stopping you from saying what you like in the comfort of your own house or to a group you organize. It’s just that you can’t say it on their real estate. This would be the same if someone started loudly screaming in the middle of a Target about the need to rise up against the Marxist feminists who want to drug our children. The owners of that business would be well within their rights to say he can’t do that there, but if he wants to take his diatribe to the park across the street more power to him.
They largely know this is BS, I think, and so continue to make the free speech case whenever possible. It’s just that by putting this kind of pressure on those companies they get what they really want, which is the preferred treatment. That’s been exactly how this same argument played out with the mainstream media over the last 25 years. Conservatives complain their views aren’t being given adequate air in the “lamestream media” and so those media organizations hire conservative-leaning columnists and talking heads to provide “balance,” even if those individuals are, say, convicted criminals, disgraced politicians, blatant Nazi sympathizers and the like.
The point isn’t to be treated like everyone else. The point is to be given favored status, with their rights having more pull than those of the people they abuse, either online or in the real world. Until they have silenced every progressive voice – their ultimate goal because even one iota of dissent is enough to have them screaming of bias and unfair treatment – they won’t be happy.
Chris Thilk is a freelance writer and content strategist who lives in the Chicago suburbs.