Perhaps the most chilling aspect of the rising censorship in the United States is that countries like Germany (with histories of antagonism toward free speech) have criticized the trend as dangerous and wrong. While Democratic leaders and media figures have supported censorship, figures like Angela Merkel (long criticized for her attacks on free speech) have criticized moves like Twitter banning Trump. Now, Germany has fined YouTube for something that many on the left in the United States have supported: the removal of a video contesting Covid-19 limits.
A German court ordered YouTube to pay a $118,000 fine for removing the video of a protest against Covid-19 lockdowns filmed in Switzerland last year. YouTube fought to censor the video because it deemed such protests to be Covid-19 “misinformation.” YouTube, like Twitter and Facebook, enforce massive censorship operations after taking sides on issues of political, scientific, and social debates.
Facebook only recently announced that people on its platform will be able to discuss the origins of Covid-19 after censoring any such discussion. I previously wrote about how Facebook and other companies are running a campaign to convince young people to accept “content modification” as part of their evolution with technology. This reframing of expectations has been fostered by Democratic leaders who have pushed social media companies for more censorship to protect people from errant or damaging ideas. Last year, Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) warned Big Tech CEOs that he and his colleagues were watching to be sure there was no “backsliding or retrenching” from “robust content modification.”
This censorship craze is not just limited to the lab story or to Facebook. Indeed, last year, House Democrats Anna Eshoo and Jerry McNerney of California wrote a letter to cable carriers like AT&T to ask why they are still allowing people to watch Fox News. The members stressed that “not all TV news sources are the same” and called these companies to account for their role in allowing such “dissemination.” Thus, it is not just specific stories but whole sources of information that need to be banned to protect innocent, gullible citizens.
In all of these exchanges, the underlying portrayal of the public is the same: they are unwitting dupes who must be protected from harmful thoughts or influences. It is safer for them to have these members and these companies determine what they can hear or discuss.
Facebook’s decision to allow people to discuss the theory follows the company’s Oversight Board upholding a ban on any postings of Trump, a move that even figures like Germany Angela Merkel and Sen. Bernie Sanders (I., Vt.) have criticized as a danger to free speech. Even Trump’s voice has been banned by Facebook. Trump remains too harmful for Facebook users to hear . . . at least until the company decides that they are ready for such exposure.
We have to get action in Congress to deal with social media companies. These companies should not receive government subsidies or support, including immunity, if they are going to censor debates. I am an unabashed Internet originalist. I have long opposed the calls for censorship under the pretense of creating “an honest Internet.” It is time for Congress to act.