Freedom is Tyranny: Robert Reich Goes Full Orwellian in Anti-Free Speech Screed

We recently discussed the gathering of Democratic politicians and media figures at the University of Chicago to discuss how to better shape news, combat “disinformation,” and reeducate those with conservative views. The political and media elite shared ideas on how to expand censorship and control what people read or viewed in the news. The same figures are now alarmed that Elon Musk could gain greater influence over Twitter and, perish the thought, restore free speech protections to the site. The latest is former labor secretary under President Clinton, Robert Reich, who wrote a perfectly Orwellian column in the Guardian titled “Elon Musk’s vision for the internet is dangerous nonsense.” However, the column offers an insight into the anti-free speech mentality that has taken hold of the Democratic party and the mainstream media.

Musk is an advocate for free speech on the Internet. Like some of us, he is an Internet originalist. That makes him an existential threat for those who have long used “disinformation” as an excuse to silence dissenting views in the media and on social media.

Twitter has gone from denial of seeking to shape speech on the Internet to embracing that function. After the old Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey was criticized for his massive censorship efforts, Twitter replaced him with CEO Parag Agrawal who has expressed chilling anti-free speech sentiments. In an interview with Technology Review editor-in-chief Gideon Lichfield, he was asked how Twitter would balance its efforts to combat misinformation with wanting to “protect free speech as a core value” and to respect the First Amendment.  Agrawal responded;

“Our role is not to be bound by the First Amendment, but our role is to serve a healthy public conversation and our moves are reflective of things that we believe lead to a healthier public conversation. The kinds of things that we do about this is, focus less on thinking about free speech, but thinking about how the times have changed.

One of the changes today that we see is speech is easy on the internet. Most people can speak. Where our role is particularly emphasized is who can be heard. The scarce commodity today is attention. There’s a lot of content out there. A lot of tweets out there, not all of it gets attention, some subset of it gets attention.”

He added that Twitter would be “moving towards how we recommend content and … how we direct people’s attention is leading to a healthy public conversation that is most participatory.”

Reich lays that agenda bare in his column while condemning free speech advocates as petty tyrants oppressing people through freedom.

Reich explains that it is not about freedom but tyranny. More free speech means less freedom. It is the type of argument commonly used in China and other authoritarian nations–and an increasing number of American academics and writers. Indeed, his column is reminiscent of the professors who have called for the adoption of the Chinese model for censoring views on the Internet.

In an article published in The Atlantic by Harvard law professor Jack Goldsmith and University of Arizona law professor Andrew Keane Woods called for Chinese-style censorship of the internet, stating that “in the great debate of the past two decades about freedom versus control of the network, China was largely right and the United States was largely wrong.”

Reich tells people not to be lured by freedom of speech: “Musk says he wants to ‘free’ the internet. But what he really aims to do is make it even less accountable than it is now.” What Reich refers to as “accountability” is being accountable to those like himself who can filter out views and writings that are deemed harmful for readers.

Reich then goes full Orwellian:

“Musk advocates free speech but in reality it’s just about power. Power compelled Musk to buy $2.64bn of Twitter stock, making him the largest individual shareholder.”

Reich insists that censorship of views like former President Donald Trump are “necessary to protect American democracy.” Get it? Less freedom is more freedom.

The column gets increasingly bizarre as Reich cites the fact that Musk has continued to express banned thoughts as proof that he is a menace:

“Billionaires like Musk have shown time and again they consider themselves above the law. And to a large extent, they are. Musk has enough wealth that legal penalties are no more than slaps on his wrist, and enough power to control one of the most important ways the public now receives news. Think about it: after years of posting tweets that skirt the law, Musk was given a seat on Twitter’s board (and is probably now negotiating for even more clout).”

Reich then delivers his terrifying warning:

“That’s Musk’s dream. And Trump’s. And Putin’s. And the dream of every dictator, strongman, demagogue and modern-day robber baron on Earth. For the rest of us, it would be a brave new nightmare.”

That nightmare, of course, is free speech. It is a nightmare that people like Reich and those at the “Disinformation conference” will lose control over media and social media.

Imagine a site where people are largely free to express themselves without supervision or approval. What a nightmare.

[Warning foul language and full irony]

249 thoughts on “Freedom is Tyranny: Robert Reich Goes Full Orwellian in Anti-Free Speech Screed”

  1. Our? What is “ours” Mr Reich? (Who is about 4ft tall literally). I’m a Saxon. My people wrote the Bill of Rights. Mr Reich is a middle easterner and there is no “our” anywhere. Take your bigoted Talmud and go back to Israel

  2. As a committed leftist, I support and agree with freedom of expression online. To truly support this freedom, we must also continue to hold the platforms and service providers harmless with regard to content that is transmitted by them. There’s some hope for restoring and protecting net neutrality, but if every ISP and social media platform is forced to install censoring algorithms, that will become moot.

    1. When you take responsibility for curating the content, you are yourself speaking – and we each ARE responsible for our own speech.

      When you take down content, you are accusing those who published the content of wrong or immoral conduct.

      That is defamation, and the defense for defamation is truth.

      If you hold content providers harmless – you allow them to lie with impunity.

      I would note centuries of common law distinguish between writers editors, publishers and distributors – each with decreasing liability for content.

      You should NEVER be held harmless for the decisions you make. But your liability should decrease with your role.

    2. Doubt that you are a “leftist”. More likely a liberal in the classical sense before that term got corrupted.

  3. i’m a free speech extremist, absolutist, but “less freedom means more freedom” is not as absurd as it sounds. civil rights laws are an example. or were.

    1. No it is pretty mush as absurd as it sounds.

      You unclear regarding what you mean by civil rights laws.

      Regardless, the legitimate function of government, the social contract, surrenders the right to initiate violence against others in return for governments protection of all our other rights and liberties.

    2. If I’m understanding your argument, you’re saying that civil rights legislation privileged the Constitutional rights of (for example) Black Americans over those of bigoted white Americans: freedom of association, for instance, when you choose to associate only with other white people, and property rights such as the right to sell your property to the person you choose when you explicitly exclude any person of a certain ethnicity from your choices. Is that what you’re talking about, with “less freedom is more freedom”?

      I’d point out that in the case of civil rights legislation, the object and the result were to *extend* protections of the most fundamental rights to a greater number than before; the rights-extending side was the one that could claim the less freedom=more freedom argument. In this case with Twitter v Musk, Musk is at least talking like someone who wants to extend protections of a fundamental right to everyone who chooses to make use of it via Twitter, while the Twitter board and management seem to be the ones trying to preserve their power to limit the ability of some to avail themselves of that right. (Can they do it, legally? I’m with all the commenters who point out that once you employ content “moderation,” you make yourself responsible for content you permit and lose your status as a common carrier. But that’s not my gist here.) But it’s the pro-Twitter side, the rights-limiting side, that’s making the statement that their version of less freedom=more freedom.

      That’s Orwellian.

  4. Aren’t you ever going to get it. Chairman Obama and Chairman Reich have made it clear that you didn’t build that. If you continue to say that you built it then it’s off to the re-education camps for you. Can you see any difference between these two men and the leaders of Russia and China in their philosophy. They’ve covered it up with the nice sounding word “progressive” but as each day passes they reveal who they really are. They want to tell you what you can say and when you can say it. Will you stand at the voting booth while you still can.

  5. Didn’t he write in one of his books that EVERY person must stand before a tribunal to simply justify their “existence” on earth? Wow! Just wow!

  6. I watched an interview with Bill Mayer on the Ben Shapiro show. Bill said that he has not changed but the Democratic party has changed. What Bill Mayer can not understanding is that the Democratic party is what it has always been. Robert Reich has been a stalwart of the Democratic Party for decades and has consistently been the same man he is now throughout the years. Bill Mayer just didn’t want to understand the people he was aligned with. I guess now that seeing the light is better than never seeing the light at all.

    1. Mayer just rides the waves with the greatest percentages. Whenitshifts he will too.

  7. As far as Twitter is concerned, I and my entire family could care less. Everyone in my family has cancelled their Twitter accounts due to the lopsided censorship of any conservative view. Ronna McDaniel recently sent out a “Tweet” describing the difficulties the RNC is finding with the Commission on Presidential Debates. Her Tweet was roundly “mocked” by Twitter users. There comes a point in time one has to realize that Twitter “forced” many ordinary conservative people off of the platform through “shadow banning” and other back handed means, simultaneously giving wide latitude for spreading Democrat propaganda (ie; The Putin Price Hikes). Twitter seemingly encourages Liberal Twitter users to bash the enemies of so their called “Twitter approved free speech”.
    Personally, I think Twitter is a lost cause, fun while it lasted. As more conservatives drop out it will become nothing more than an echo chamber for the Left. Eventually it will go the way of Usenet, still around but ignored to the point it is background noise.

  8. Totalitarians can never allow free speech.

    If they cannot defend their position, they must prevent exposure.

  9. A Corporate Fable:

    A well-to-do man walks into a store at closing time and sees a watch priced at $10,000.00. The man eyes the watch. The clerk tells him he knows the man will give the watch away to someone the clerk hates as soon as he leaves the store and refuses to sell him the watch. The well-to-do man offers him $14,000.00 for the watch but only if he accepts the offer right now. The clerk panics and calls all over town trying to find someone who’ll pay $14,000.00 for a $10,000.00 watch but can’t. The clerk knows the shop owner will fire him and make him pay the difference from his own funds (which he doesn’t have) if he doesn’t sell the man the watch. And he knows his worst fears will come true if he sells it to him.

    If you recognize this story you know the well-to-do man is Elon Musk and the clerk is Twitter’s Board. And the hated man outside … we he’s in all our mirrors.

  10. (OT)

    In another J6 trial, the jury has found defendant Dustin Thompson guilty on all charges. including felony obstruction of Congress.

  11. If you think these mega rich will pay their share you aren’t paying attention. Loopholes are written for them. I trust Musk as much as I trust Trump or any other politician or billionaire – not at all.

    1. Dolly:

      There is no concrete definition for “fair”. It’s subjective. Some people think it’s fair to expect the wealthy to pay a higher percentage of their earnings than everyone else, arguing they can afford it. Others would say that’s not equal treatment.

      Some would say it’s not fair for the poor, who only pay sales and gas taxes, to use roads, bridges, schools, and other infrastructure, to claim that taxpayers aren’t paying their “fair” share.

      I will grant you that the wealthy have access to highly qualified tax attorneys, and can shelter money in, say, a winery they can write off as agricultural. In that, we agree.

      However, what you call “loopholes” I consider to be deductions or other tradeoffs that were written into the tax code in order to create some tax relief, stimulate investment, and protect the economy. If successful people are punished for investing, that would have devastating effects on the economy.

      Even Bill Maher had to admit that the rich pay the freight of running the country, especially in California. The idea that the rich don’t pay their “fair” share often stems from investment income having a lower tax rate than employee income. However, that’s necessary because no one would invest a dime if you were taxed 26% of it. The amount of return you’d need to make it worth it is not realistic. That would decimate investment portfolios, like retirement accounts, mutual funds, and other vehicles that many Americans use.

      The greed for other people’s money appears insatiable.

    2. Which is how much I trust Twitter’s very rich board, or politicians who don’t trust free speech.

    3. “If you think these mega rich will pay their share . . .”

      Human beings are not farm animals, to be fattened up for the collective to slaughter.

  12. Ah, what a tangled Orwellian web the Dems weave…

    To be crystal clear in this context “misinformation” and “disinformation” mean any facts, evidence and/or opinions that are contrary to the preferred Dem narrative and their objective of one-party Socialist rule.

    How is this misinformation game played? For key Dem issues, typically, a group of “experts” (completely beholden to the Dem party and its interests) are trotted out and they will deem the narrative to be the “truth”. This declaration will then be used by the media (also completely beholden to the Dem party) to censor differing viewpoints and underscore the “truth”. In short, polls, studies and experts are being used selectively and proactively to promulgate the “truth” (aka the narrative) which, in turn, is leveraged and amplified by the media.

    Any opposing viewpoints are subsequently branded “conspiracy theories” and anyone that holds an opposing view is subject to ostracization and the potential for severe personal/economic repercussions. This is known as being cancelled.

    Let’s have a look at some of the “truths” that Dems are looking to protect from “misinformation”:

    – It’s impossible that COVID-19 could have come from a biolab in Wuhan
    – Trump colluded with Russia
    – The Hunter Biden laptop is Russian disinformation
    – The willful denial of natural immunity
    – Inflation is transitory. Inflation is a rich person problem. Inflation is because corporations are gauging. Actually, inflation is good. No,
    actually, inflation (ongoing for a year) is because of Putin.
    – The supply chain crisis is simply the “tragedy of the treadmill delayed”
    – The Build Back Better program costs zero dollars
    – Government spending lowers the deficit and inflation
    – Border patrol agents are “whipping” migrants
    – COVID-19 is the disease of the unvaccinated

    The list could go on endlessly but for each of the examples above the facts and evidence are abundantly clear: these so-called “truths” are, in fact, false and represent mis/disinformation in and of itself. Neat how that works–truth as misinformation and misinformation as truth.

    For the Dems to hold forth on misinformation is rich and, quite literally, the fox and the henhouse concept exemplified.

    What the Dems are really saying is that they want to establish a de facto Ministry of Truth…all for the greater good, naturally.

    1. “Any opposing viewpoints are subsequently branded ‘conspiracy theories’ . . .”

      Yep. It’s the modern version of “heresy.”

    2. “Dems are looking to protect from ‘misinformation’:”

      That’s a great list. Well done!

      “The list could go on endlessly . . .”

      Such as:

      — The Afghanistan withdrawal was a “success.”
      — Voter ID is Jim Crow 2.0.
      — CRT is not a thing. (But if it is, it’s a good thing.)
      — Selecting a person because of their race or sex is not racist or sexist.
      — The economy is fine. (But if it’s not fine, it’s Trump’s or Putin’s fault. Maybe both.)
      — The genital mutilation of children (?!) should be protected by the government.
      — Biden’s dementia is just “gaffes.”
      — Fauci is a Saint.
      — Parents “terrorize” school boards.
      — “Domestic terrorists” (never defined) are the greatest threat to America. Or maybe it’s “white supremacists.”
      — Blacks who don’t kowtow to democrats have “sold their birthright.”
      — Democrats are the “party of the middle class.” (As their inflation and regulations decimate the middle class.)
      — D’s are the “party of science.” (Unless you’re a “chosen one.” Then you can ignore the “science.)
      — If I wish hard enough, I can be whatever gender I choose. (And compete against women in sports.)
      — When social media companies ban dissenters, they’re merely invoking their “Terms of Use.”

      It’s hard to believe that we have an entire party, with a long list of specific policies — all based on fantasy.

      1. Sam: If this list is your own creation, it’s very good and smart. If not your own, thanks for sharing it.

  13. The shoe on the other foot principle is a good one to follow. This part of his quote is telling, “…and enough power to control one of the most important ways the public now receives news.”

    Many spoke about Twitter being a private company (not subject to the rules of free speech) and that they were simply making a business decision when they cut off communication of the sitting President of the United States and professionals and thought leaders who disagreed with the narrative of the day.

    Thankfully, there are a number of journalists who have broken free from the legacy news outlets to create their own platforms, while the networks have become a caldron of propaganda and misinformation, not much more than watching state news in a dictatorship.

    Thankfully, more and more people recognize that the once respected legacy outlets are no longer a reliable source of information.

    1. You really want only originalists, which Turley surprisingly says he’s not. But why not? What’s wrong with Scalia’s “the Constitution is not a living organism; it is a legal document. It says something and doesn’t say other things … .” ?

      1. Again the Constitution is a living Constitution because there is within in a mechanism for amending or writing. A. Whole new Constitution. The court is free to express and explain what deficiencies they feel are in the Constitution. They were never intended to make law.

    2. I might disagree with his decisions but agree that he would make an excellent SCOTUS member. There is a tremendous difference between being a Republican or Democrat and a partisan Republican or Democrat.

  14. Musk taking control of a tech media outlet is bad
    Wealthy people shouldn’t be allowed to do this. But Jeff Besos owning the Washington post is OK. Yeah, I see the logic here.

  15. It is Dennis McIntyre’s dream to stomp out anyone who he disagrees with him. He fears any platform where people might speak freely because such speech might diminish his master’s power.

  16. From the Guardian:
    “But what he really aims to do is make it even less accountable than it is now, when it’s often impossible to discover who is making the decisions about how algorithms are designed, who is filling social media with lies, who’s poisoning our minds with pseudo-science and propaganda, and who’s deciding which versions of events go viral and which stay under wraps.

    Make no mistake: this is not about freedom. It’s about power.

    In _________ vision of Twitter and the internet, he’d be the wizard behind the curtain – projecting on the world’s screen a fake image of a brave new world empowering everyone. In reality, that world would be dominated by the richest and most powerful people in the world, who wouldn’t be accountable to anyone for facts, truth, science or the common good.”

    It’s complicated.

    Reich did write for the World Economic Forum in 2015:

    Also from Robert Reich in 2019:

    “If Davos’s attendees ignore all this, and blame the rise of right-wing populism around the globe on racism fueled by immigrants from the Middle East and from Central America, they’re deluding themselves. The real source of the rise of repressive authoritarianism, nativism, and xenophobia in the United States as well as [other countries] is a pervasive sense that elites are rigging the world economy for themselves. And, guess what? They are. Message to Davos Man (and Women): Either commit to pushing for broader prosperity and democracy, or watch as trade wars, capital controls, and isolationism erode global prosperity (including yours) and global peace.”

    I’m not sure what to think of Musk. Appears to me that both men are having a power tussle of sorts.

    As far as I can tell, no one at the top is interested in republican governance. They would prefer the power stay with their party. They want their AI, their transhumanism, and their neuroweapons and with that, power.

  17. Dennis McIntyre: Don’t worry, the media will help you.They’ve already started their Musk-bashing (with their characteristic offensive measures to downplay, discredit, or otherwise destroy anything contrary to their agenda). BTW, did you happen to view on mainstream media this morning, the news of a rogue Tesla with locked controls speeding down a highway at 83 mph, with driver Rodriguez curiously, miraculously, and meticulously filming the entire incident (without another vehicle in sight on this empty stretch of highway) as he pulled to the shoulder and corrected it?

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