Free speech suppression online builds case to break up Big Tech

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Free speech is under attack by the Big Tech monopolies that dominate the internet. The flogging that Beto O’Rourke received during his Reddit “ask me anything” session this month perfectly underscored the distinction between a mainstream media and a genuinely free press. O’Rourke gave Americans a chance to grill him about his pivot from a centrist Senate candidate to a radical presidential hopeful, and in contrast to the handling he has gotten from the media, they treated him like hamburger meat.

No surprise there. The expression of free speech can be edgy, brutal, irreverent, and sometimes downright offensive. I should know. My father and I have been subjected to some of the most withering attacks and false claims in politics. Participating in democracy, however, is as American as apple pie. There is no substitute for open, honest, unrestricted dialogue and criticism when it comes to holding our leaders accountable.

For all the platitudes offered by liberal journalists about the free press standing as a cornerstone of democracy, they do not actually have a very good grasp of the concept. The free press that the founders envisioned looked a lot more like the Reddit users who roasted O’Rourke than New York Times writers who misrepresent basic tenets of free speech and demand censorship to protect their friends from “online harassment.”

In the 18th century, English newspaper editor John Wilkes anonymously published a satirical pamphlet savagely blasting the British prime minister. Wilkes was thrown in jail for writing it, but our founders, whom Wilkes firmly supported, wound up basing their concept of a free press on his example. Common Sense by Thomas Paine, the most important pamphlet championing the patriot cause, was also published anonymously, as were the Federalist Papers that informed the writing of the Constitution.

As I have written many times, the greatest threat to free speech and our democracy today is not the government, but the technology giants that deplatform people at the behest of liberals and then justify the action as “combating hate” and making the internet somehow safer. I was reminded of this reality when Instagram once again stifled my voice, as well as that of my father, by preventing our accounts from appearing in search results. As with every time this happens, Instagram simply blamed an error.

If social media can do that to the president, then no one is safe. I do not believe that such an error could possibly account for the extent to which conservatives are silenced by Big Tech. The sustained pattern of leftward bias both within the companies themselves and in their conduct around elections has been clearly established. After all, when is the last time you heard a liberal complain about being unfairly stifled on social media?

Technology companies are now openly claiming that they can engage in biased censorship, with Facebook arguing in court that it has the right to censor content because it is a publisher. If it were not for Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act, the admission that it is a publisher would make Facebook liable for every word of defamation and slander on its various platforms. Instead, Facebook escapes liability because it is a provider of “interactive computer services” protected specifically because it offers a forum for a “true diversity of political discourse.”

Which sounds more like free speech to you? Google, Facebook, and Twitter wielding their unchecked power to silence conservative voices while avoiding the obligations imposed on normal publishers? Or citizens and political candidates freely expressing their opinions online without fear of suppression? The disdain shown by technology companies for viewpoint neutrality and their refusal to be honest about it shows the threat of the Silicon Valley monopoly over the modern public square.

Thanks in large part to the White House, people are recognizing the gravity of the situation. A majority of Americans support breaking up the technology giants, including a majority of liberals, while 50 state and territory attorneys general have brought the first antitrust investigation of its kind against Google. This comes in addition to antitrust investigations into Google, Facebook, and Amazon that have already been announced by both the Justice Department and the Federal Trade Commission.

For years, state and local governments allowed Silicon Valley to amass monopoly power over activities that affect significant areas of our lives. In return, the technology companies allowed liberal activists to dominate their corporate culture and abuse their power to restrict free speech. If Big Tech keeps kowtowing to this, it might very well soon regret it.

Donald Trump Jr. is executive vice president at the Trump Organization.

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