I previously wrote a column about the rising calls by Democratic leaders and activists for different forms of public and private censorship. Indeed, the recent extreme demands and controversy at the New York Times shows how speech controls have been a virtual article of faith for many. Twitter’s actions against Trump tweets are another example of the inconsistent use of such controls. Now GoFundMe has taken it upon itself to censor causes that it views as offensive in closing down a fundraiser by conservative political commentator Candace Owens in support of an Alabama cafe whose co-owner criticized the George Floyd protests. The question again is not whether we agree with such sentiments but the free speech implications of these forms of private censorship. Rather than respond to such controversial statements, critics today focus on silencing the speakers or barring their views or causes to be heard by others. What is interesting is that, by abandoning neutrality, GoFundMe is now affirming that it does regulate content and will face demands for more such action. That could undermine the position of these companies against the loss of immunity under Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act.
Birmingham’s Parkside Cafe, whose co-owner Michael Dykes said Floyd was a “thug” and protesters were “idiots” in a text message to a co-worker that was posted online. The comments in my view were offensive and inflammatory but they are not my views. Dykes was expressing his personal view and the result is that he was given death threats and the cafe boycotted.
Owens, who is African American, shared the views of Dykes. She has also been criticized for statement like this one:
“The fact that he has been held up as a martyr sickens me. George Floyd was not a good person, I don’t care who wants to spin that. I don’t care how CNN wants to make you think he changed his life around, He was just after his sixth or fifth stint in prison.”
On Sunday, Owens disclosed that her campaign to support Dykes’ cafe was suspended by GoFundMe after the company found her fundraiser “to be in support of hate, violence, harassment, bullying, discrimination, terrorism, or intolerance of any kind.”
Owens ironically wrote on Twitter:
“Guess my message to little kids would be for them not to idolize men that: Get high on fentanyl, get high on meth, use counterfeit bills, shove guns into the stomaches of pregnant women while robbing them, go to prison 5 times. What a truly horrible message I carry.”