I recently published a column on the effort by Democrats to get Facebook and other companies to implement a system of censorship of political ads, which would be entirely unconstitutional if carried out by the government. Now, Hillary Clinton has declared that Mark Zuckerberg “should pay a price” for the damage that he is doing to democracy. It is a curious argument since, according to Clinton, Zuckerberg is apparently harming democracy by not curtailing free speech by censoring political speech. I have previously criticized President Donald Trump for his own anti-free speech and anti-free press rhetoric.
I will not repeat the prior arguments in my column on why private censorship is a far greater danger than misleading or inaccurate political statements. However, I have previously criticized Clinton for her poor record on free speech, including her support for a thinly veiled blasphemy resolution in the United Nations. Clinton has never been viewed as a strong ally to free speech.
Yet, the demand for corporate censorship of political ads has magnified this long-standing concern. Speaking in New York at a screening of The Great Hack, a Netflix documentary, Clinton lashed out at Facebook. She asked “When Facebook is the principal news source for more than half of the American people, and the only source of news that most of them pay any attention to, and if it announces that it has no responsibility for the airing of false ads … how are you supposed to get accurate information about anything, let alone candidates running for office?”
The answer is that you also have access to Facebook and you can rebut false or misleading statements. It is called free speech.
Clinton then strongly suggested that she believed that this was part of a scheme, though stopping short of her signature “vast right-wing conspiracy” allegation: “If I were of a conspiratorial mindset, I might suggest that there seems to be some connection.” She warned of continued “manipulation of information” by “incredibly wealthy people who believe they can do whatever they want to do”.
She insisted that “[Facebook founder] Mark Zuckerberg should pay a price for what he is doing to our democracy.”
What is striking is that Clinton still believes that it was all of these outside and unseen forces that cost her the election as opposed to her own problems in connecting with voters. After the election, Clinton alternatively blamed sexism, racism, self-hating women, domineering boyfriends, Russian hackers, Bernie Sanders, and of course, James Comey. The most obvious reason is that Clinton remains a highly unpopular figure and was viewed as inauthentic on the campaign by many. Many of us were critical when the Democratic establishment (and virtually every Democratic member of Congress) all but guaranteed the nomination of Clinton despite every poll showing her to be unpopular and the voters seeking an anti-establishment choice. Most recently, her accusation of long-time critic Tulsi Gabbard as a “Russian asset” has led to a chorus of denunciations. The fact is that Clinton was one of the few politicians that could have lost to Trump in 2016, who was the most unpopular Republican nominee in modern history. It was not Facebook’s refusal to engage in corporate censorship.
The continued call for a system of censorship is chilling for the free speech community. It is now becoming mainstream as free speech recedes into quagmire of our poisonous political environment.