- - Tuesday, January 12, 2021

The First Amendment guarantees that neither the government nor its agents can censor or restrict the speech or expression of the American people. The Framers believed that the right to freedom of speech is so essential and so fundamental to a functioning democracy that they enshrined it in our founding documents.

The courts have consistently protected and prioritized this right, ruling that public schools, universities and other government institutions cannot suppress or censor the speech of students, the public or private companies, especially when the speech in question is political in nature.

Despite these efforts to protect one of our most sacred rights, the restriction and censorship of speech remains a pressing and critical concern. Public universities and schools, for example, are notorious for suppressing the speech of conservative students.

However, what may be more concerning than the First Amendment violations of academic institutions, is the rampant censorship by tech oligopolies such as Twitter, Facebook and Google. In a few short years, Twitter has progressed from removing fringe voices such as conspiracy theorist Alex Jones and vile inappropriate posts to permanently banning the sitting president of the United States and censoring The New York Post, the nation’s oldest newspaper. Facebook has taken similar actions regarding Donald Trump and the Post. 

Twitter alleged that they suspended the president due to a risk of “further incitement of violence.” As evidence of the supposed risk the president poses, Twitter provided two of Mr. Trump’s tweets.

The first reads, “The 75,000,000 great American Patriots who voted for me, AMERICA FIRST, and MAKE AMERICA GREAT AGAIN, will have a GIANT VOICE long into the future. They will not be disrespected or treated unfairly in any way, shape or form!!!” The second states, “To all of those who have asked, I will not be going to the Inauguration on January 20th.” While some may find the content of these tweets disagreeable, they assuredly don’t advocate for or incite violence.

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg offered a similar rationale for suspending the president’s Facebook and Instagram accounts, stating that “the risks of allowing the President to continue to use our service during this period are simply too great.” This is an odd sentiment considering that Mr. Trump’s final Facebook post before the suspension reads, “I am asking for everyone at the U.S. Capitol to remain peaceful. No violence! Remember, WE are the Party of Law & Order – respect the Law and our great men and women in Blue. Thank you!”

It seems clear that keeping the peace is only a pretext for removing Mr. Trump and other conservatives. The true objective of Facebook and Twitter is the suppression and censoring of conservative thought. This was made abundantly clear when both platforms prohibited the sharing of a pre-election New York Post story linking Joe Biden to corrupt dealings involving his son’s business activities in Ukraine. 

Twitter also locked the Post out of their account for a time as they had refused to delete a tweet linking to the controversial article. Facebook and Twitter’s motivation in doing this was distinctly political. They actively prevented the sharing of an outrageous story that would have doubtlessly been damaging to their preferred candidate.

Fearing this increasing censorship, many conservatives took refuge on a new social media startup named Parler, a platform dedicated to allowing their users to “[s]peak freely and express [themselves] openly, without fear of being ‘deplatformed’ for [their] views.”

However, mere hours after Twitter announced their permanent suspension of Mr. Trump, Parler found their own existence in jeopardy. Both Google and Apple swiftly removed Parler from their app stores for not policing its users’ posts. Then, Amazon informed Parler that it would be removing the company from its web-hosting service as Parler had supposedly violated Amazon’s rules. Without a web-hosting service, Parler has been forced to go offline for “a while.” Parler CEO John Matz wrote that the site may be down for as long as a week.

It has become exceptionally apparent that we are witnessing a systematic and coordinated assault on free speech and free expression perpetrated by tech oligopolies. Given this, can and should the government regulate social media platforms and other tech conglomerates to ensure that certain views and ideologies are not being suppressed?

It’s true that as free enterprises, Facebook, Twitter and Google are not obligated to uphold the First Amendment. Private businesses should largely be entitled to operate at their own discretion. However, when the market is utterly dominated by such a small number of incredibly powerful firms that are increasingly operating as monopolies and cartels, government intervention is not only acceptable, it is fundamentally necessary.

When a handful of corporations can effectively silence an entire political ideology and effortlessly dispatch any competition that may arise, they become a serious threat to a society and a democracy. The actions that these tech giants have taken to stifle conservative thought and free speech are so egregious and so harmful that policymakers have a responsibility to intervene and break the monopolistic hold these corporations have on the market. 

Our nation is predicated upon the ideals of free speech and free expression. Neither the government nor private companies should be permitted to control the dialogue of the nation through the suppression and censorship of speech.

• Kyle Reynolds studies public policy and economics at Indiana University. 

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