We have previously discussed platforms like GoFundMe barring conservative groups and causes after cancel campaigns by activists to cut off financial support for opposing groups. The latest such controversy concerns Riley Gaines who was barred from using the ticketing company Eventbrite for an upcoming event on promoting biological women in sports.
As in the past, the free speech objections made to such censorship is not due to any affiliation or support for the underlying causes. Rather it is an attack on free speech values by platforms that should remain neutral on questions that divide us. These companies can facilitate national debates by allowing citizens to associate and speak on these issues.
While Gaines has become a lightening rod for the controversy over transwomen competing in women’s sports, various international sporting organizations have adopted more strict rules or outright bans on transgender athletes, including a recent ban for track and field competitions.
Once again, the adoption of such bans does not mean that they are correct or wise. Rather, the question is whether Eventbrite should be barring access for groups and individuals in holding such events. For example, would Eventbrite bar the track and field association from holding an event to explain and discuss its recent ban?
Gaines was prevented from promoting her November 3 speech at the University of California, Davis.
Eventbrite sent the following to the group institute in an email:
We’re reaching out regarding your event listing, Protecting Women’s Sports with Riley Gaines.
We have determined that your event is not permitted on the Eventbrite marketplace as it violates our Community Guidelines and Terms of Service, with which all users agree to comply. Specifically, we do not allow content or events that – through on- or off-platform activity – discriminate against, harass, disparage, threaten, incite violence against, or otherwise target individuals or groups based on their actual or perceived race, ethnicity, religion, national origin, immigration status, gender identity, sexual orientation, veteran status, age, or disability. As a result, your event has been unpublished. Please be aware that severe or repeated violations of our guidelines may result in the suspension or termination of your Eventbrite account.
Please reply directly to this email if you have any further questions. We appreciate your understanding and thank you in advance for your cooperation.
Eventbrite Trust and Safety”
The company has also banned events to discuss policies limiting access to bathrooms as “hateful.”
Critics have noted that pro-Hamas groups are allowed to use the site as are radical far left groups.
For years, many politicians and pundits have dismissed free-speech concerns by noting that the First Amendment only applies to the government. So long as corporations do the censoring, they contend, it is not a free-speech problem.
This obviously is wrong on several fronts.
The First Amendment is not the exclusive measure of free speech. Corporate censorship of political commentaries or news stories are denials of free speech that harm our democratic system.
Second, this is a First Amendment violation. The Twitter files have substantiated long-standing concerns over “censorship by surrogate” or proxy. As with other amendments like the Fourth Amendment, which protects against unreasonable searches or seizures, the government cannot use private agents to do indirectly what it cannot do directly. A federal court recently found precisely this type of agency relationship between the federal government and social media companies.
Transgender policies raise difficult and divisive issues for our nation. We need to be able to discuss these issues and seek common answers or approaches. Many citizens are divided. We can only reach a consensus through dialogue and debate.
What Eventbrite is doing is obstructing such efforts by imposing its own corporate values on its customers. I understand why transgender people would object to these events. I have transgender students who I want to feel safe and valued in our community. Yet, limiting free speech events is not the answer. For social media and event companies, it is important to allow views on both sides to be expressed if we have any hope for a national resolution of these questions.