We have been discussing the erosion of free speech on social media and the Internet. This includes calls from leading Democratic leaders for years to implement private censorship of political speech, a view supported by academics who have declared that “China was right” about censorship. The latest attack on free speech comes from Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden’s campaign which has asked Facebook and Twitter to remove posts by Republican President Donald Trump aimed at discrediting mail-in voting. While Trump’s statements have been widely criticized as without foundation, they constitute political speech. Biden however wants these companies to help censor such statements from his opponent and many are supporting the effort.
Once again, we come to this dispute as a free speech matter. Ironically, the Biden campaign is citing that fact that Trump’s views have been widely discredited in calling for censorship. However, that is precisely the reason we do not need censorship. The solution to alleged bad speech is more speech, not the forced silence that the Biden campaign wants to impose through social media companies.
Trump has been tweeting that mail-in voting raises the danger of fraud, a view shared by many in the country. It is also a view roundly rejected by many. It is one of the core issues in this presidential campaign.
Biden however does not want those views to be read by others. Campaign manager Jen O’Malley Dillon declared “Our campaign has sent letters to Twitter and Facebook demanding that this disinformation, which seeks to undermine faith in our electoral process, gets taken down immediately.”
To their credit, Facebook and Twitter declined.
However, the chilling aspect to this controversy is how Biden now advocates such private censorship and wants to enlist these companies to silence his opponent — rather than engage his views in the public forum.
Censorship and speech regulation have become a regular component to Democratic messaging and demands. There was a time when the Democratic Party was a fierce advocate for free speech values. It seems that many are falling out of love with free speech, including many who now view it as a danger.
For years, we have discussed the unrelenting attacks on free speech in Europe with the expansion of hate speech laws and the general criminalization of speech, including international speech crimes. Some in the United States would like to follow down that dangerous path (and universities are reinforcing the view of the need to regulate speech). The implications of such anti-speech policies are evident in Germany where a survey, conducted by the Institut für Demoskopie Allensbach(and published in the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung) found that only 18 percent of Germans feel free to express their views in public. It is the most vivid example of how Europeans are learning to live without free speech.
This movement has now made it to our shores as vividly demonstrated by the presumptive Democratic nominee publicly demanding that his opponent’s views be censored. This is precisely the risk that many of us warned about. Such speech regulation creates an insatiable appetite for more and more censorship, as shown in countries like France, England, and Germany. The lack of any media push back on Biden’s demand shows how resistance to such anti-free speech views is becoming more mainstream in the United States.