When Twitter and Facebook decided to ban President Donald Trump, censor The New York Post, and start erasing other people and institutions from their platforms, they started down a path which will have enormous consequences for them and for America.
When Google, Amazon and Apple joined in taking down Parler, a conservative social media platform, they reached critical mass in proving that an oligarchical cabal was potentially seeking to control public dialogue for all Americans.
Even the American Civil Liberties Union, normally an opponent of conservatives, felt moved to have its senior legislative counsel Kate Ruane issue a statement that big tech using its power to remove political speech is a concern for all Americans, saying: “We understand the desire to permanently suspend him now, but it should concern everyone when companies like Facebook and Twitter wield the unchecked power to remove people from platforms that have become indispensable for the speech of billions — especially when political realities make those decisions easier.”
People noticed that Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg and Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey (who combined earned zero votes for president) had claimed the right to silence President Trump (who earned more than 74 million votes for president). The idea that a few oligarch billionaires could control the political discourse of America began to really worry people.
This process of squeezing people out of the public square is inherently dangerous. As President Harry Truman warned: “Once a government is committed to the principle of silencing the voice of opposition, it has only one way to go, and that is down the path of increasingly repressive measures, until it becomes a source of terror to all its citizens and creates a country where everyone lives in fear.”
This terrifying concept of technological management of memory and opinion was captured in its most human form in George Orwell’s 1984 (which was about a Western democracy devouring itself and its citizens in a totalitarian nightmare).
The cancel culture and social media erasure movements are strikingly like Orwell’s vision of a “memory hole,” in which ideas that are no longer deemed valid by the those in power are destroyed so people can no longer access them.
The House Democrats’ new rules (adopted Jan. 3 with 217 Democrats voting in favor) which eliminate mother, father, son, daughter and more than a dozen other “inappropriate” gender-specific words in the “Rules of the House of Representatives” document is another Orwellian example of retraining us to only think “appropriate” thoughts and use “appropriate” language. Truman’s fears are beginning to come true.
Fortunately, there is a reaction building which will defeat the left’s grasp for power over words, speech, and discourse.
First, the Internet giants are at risk of being sued for acting as indirect agents of government power. Some argue that the protections of Section 230 also make them indirect agents of the government. The Supreme Court has ruled consistently that private corporations acting as government agents are bound by the U.S. Constitution.
Cutting off free speech is a violation of the First Amendment guarantee of liberties, and therefore the companies might be subject to fines and penalties for violating the constitutional rights of their customers. Vivek Ramaswamy and Jed Rubenfeld have laid out the intellectual basis and historic precedents for this application of constitutional limitations to the internet giants.
Second, the nature of section 230 may be profoundly changed. The guarantee against lawsuits made sense when we passed it in 1996 (while I was Speaker), because it was an effort to grow what were then tiny, fragile companies. Those guarantees no longer make sense when you are dealing with gigantic worldwide institutions of enormous power and wealth.
Further, they have now demonstrated an ability to moderate content that they didn’t have in the beginning. Section 230 could be modified to either make them common carriers with no right to monitor or block the participants’ ideas, or it could be modified to make them liable to the same legal exposure as newspapers and magazines, in which case they could be sued.
Third — and the approach I most favor — conservatives should simply create alternative communications systems to provide access for everyone who disagrees with the left.
We have done this before.
In the 1980s, news was dominated by three New York City-based networks with relatively liberal newsrooms. Along came Rush Limbaugh. Following his massive success there arose hundreds of conservative talk radio hosts. Today, talk radio is overwhelmingly conservative and it is a solid alternative to traditional media liberalism.
In the early 1990s, CNN and a relatively liberal approach dominated cable news. Then, in 1996, Fox News was launched. Ironically, the genius behind the rise of Fox into the dominant news channel, Roger Ailes, had been driven out of political consulting by the left because they feared and hated him. He ended up fighting the left far more effectively through his invention of Fox News than he ever would have as a political consultant.
Now, we have the latest effort by the left to rig the game, smother dissent, and dictate what we can think, say, and believe.
Competition will destroy this left-wing groupthink machine much more quickly, decisively — and safely — than any effort to regulate or supervise the big internet giants, which will take massive time and effort to defeat their lobbying machines.
There are more than 74 million Americans who voted for President Trump. At least half of them would be a potential market for an alternative social media-web hosting system. That would be a market of 37 million Americans. If only a small share of nonconservatives came to the new system, that would give it a potential market of more than 40 million Americans.
Competition is the best way to defeat efforts at monopoly and domination.
I am convinced we Americans will reject domination by oligarchs and insist on our right to be free. We will not be thrown into the “memory hole” by a handful of rich liberals.
On to the new competitive world.
• To read, hear, and watch more of Newt’s commentary, visit Gingrich360.com. And join us on Jan. 26 for the next Newt Live event.