We have been discussing the calls for top Democrats for increased private censorship on social media and the Internet. President-elect Joe Biden has himself called for such censorship, including blocking President Donald Trump’s criticism of mail-in voting. Now, shortly after the election, one of Biden’s top aides is ramping up calls for a crackdown on Facebook for allowing Facebook users to read views that he considers misleading — users who signed up to hear from these individuals. Bill Russo, a deputy communications director on Biden’s campaign press team, tweeted late Monday that Facebook “is shredding the fabric of our democracy” by allowing such views to be shared freely.
Russo tweeted that “If you thought disinformation on Facebook was a problem during our election, just wait until you see how it is shredding the fabric of our democracy in the days after.” Russo objected to the fact that, unlike Twitter, Facebook did not move against statements that he and the campaign viewed as “misleading.” He concluded. “We pleaded with Facebook for over a year to be serious about these problems. They have not. Our democracy is on the line. We need answers.”
For those of us in the free speech community, these threats are chilling. We saw incredible abuses before the election in Twitter barring access to a true story in the New York Post about Hunter Biden and his alleged global influence peddling scheme. Notably, no one in the Biden camp (including Biden himself) thought that it was a threat to our democracy to have Twitter block the story (while later admitting that it was a mistake).
I have previously objected to such regulation of speech. What is most disturbing is how liberals have embraced censorship and even declared that “China was right” on Internet controls. Many Democrats have fallen back on the false narrative that the First Amendment does not regulate private companies so this is not an attack on free speech. Free speech is a human right that is not solely based or exclusively defined by the First Amendment. Censorship by Internet companies is a “Little Brother” threat long discussed by free speech advocates. Some may willingly embrace corporate speech controls but it is still a denial of free speech.
This is why I recently described myself as an Internet Originalist:
The alternative is “internet originalism” — no censorship. If social media companies returned to their original roles, there would be no slippery slope of political bias or opportunism; they would assume the same status as telephone companies. We do not need companies to protect us from harmful or “misleading” thoughts. The solution to bad speech is more speech, not approved speech.
If Pelosi demanded that Verizon or Sprint interrupt calls to stop people saying false or misleading things, the public would be outraged. Twitter serves the same communicative function between consenting parties; it simply allows thousands of people to participate in such digital exchanges. Those people do not sign up to exchange thoughts only to have Dorsey or some other internet overlord monitor their conversations and “protect” them from errant or harmful thoughts.
Russo’s comments mirror the comments of other Democrats who are seeking greater censorship. Indeed, in the recent Senate hearing on Twitter’s suppression of the Biden story, Democratic senators ignored the admissions of Big Tech CEOs that they were wrong to bar the story and, instead, insisted that the CEOs pledge to substantially increase such censorship. Senator Jacky Rosen warned the CEOS that “you are not doing enough” to prevent “disinformation, conspiracy theories and hate speech on your platforms.”
Again, as someone raised in a deeply liberal and Democratic family in Chicago, I do not know when the Democratic party became the party for censorship. However, limiting free speech is now a rallying cry for Democratic members and activists alike. At risk is the single greatest invention for free speech since the printing press. Russo’s comments reaffirms that the Biden Administration will continue this assault against Internet free speech. What is most unnerving is that Russo is denouncing such free speech as “shredding the fabric of our democracy.” There was a time when free speech was the very right that we fought to protect in our democratic system. It was one of the defining principles of our Constitution system. It is now being treated as a threat to that system.