The nation’s colleges and universities market themselves to prospective attendees and their families as places where academics and inquiry combine to produce well-rounded students capable of advanced thinking and prepared for the world of tomorrow. The reality, a recently published database of campus incidents shows, is quite different.
The College Fix, a website sponsored by the Student Free Press Association that provides student journalists with the opportunity to expose the insanities and inanities that occurred regularly in contemporary higher education recently compiled a database of incidents showing the so-called “cancel culture” to be alive, well, and growing throughout American institutions of higher learning.
The organization’s work, it says, is the first real attempt to quantify the problem. According to The Fix, the intolerant, politically correct crowd who are both socially prominent and academic decision-makers on so many campuses can claim, at minimum, to have taken “650 scalps” over the past ten years.
Among the outrages large and small identified in the database are:
–A move by the University of Pennsylvania to rename its Alice Paul Center – named for a suffragette who was instrumental in securing the passage and ratification of the Nineteenth Amendment giving women the right to vote – as the “Center for Research in Feminist, Queer, and Transgender Studies” to signal a “commitment” to LGBTQ “intellectual and political movements.”
–A public apology delivered in 2021 by the president of Muhlenberg College – a private college well known for its theater arts department – for a production of Gilbert and Sullivan’s “The Mikado” put on in 2010 followed by the deletion of all the photos of the performance from the school’s website.
–The expulsion from the University of Louisville (KY) School of Medicine of fourth-year student Austin Clark, allegedly over his expression of pro-life beliefs school officials labeled unprofessional.
–The dismissal of Hannah Berliner Fischthal, an adjunct instructor at St. John’s University in Queens, NY after she read a passage containing the N-word from Twain’s anti-slavery novel “Pudd’nhead Wilson” in her “Literature of Satire” class – but not before first explaining the context of the word and saying she hoped it would not offend anyone.
“What we have witnessed over the last decade is nothing short of a new Red Guard enforcing its cultural revolution on American college campuses,” said Jennifer Kabbany, editor of The College Fix. “This database stands athwart the campaign to condemn, erase and rewrite our shared history.”
The number of incidents cited in the database amount to roughly one per week for every week for ten years. The College Fix said updates would be made regularly as part of an ongoing effort “to document every example of targeting and suppression in an age of censorship, memory-holing, and soft totalitarianism.” What has been uncovered so far, the group said, is likely just the tip of a very large iceberg “but there are likely more examples out there, and much more to come.”
A federal appellate court’s decision to rehear a case in which a controversial provision of 1996’s Communications Decency Act protecting Big Tech firms from civil suits because they are “distributors of content” rather than “publishers” is giving people hope the recent wave of Internet censorship may soon end.
The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second said July 16 it would rehear the arguments “en banc” following a ruling by a three-judge panel that upheld a lower court’s decision in Dorman v Vimeo, in which it was argued the tech platform was insulated from liability after it terminated the video streaming feed of a group posting videos of individuals saying they’d abandoned homosexuality to pursue a Christian way of living.
Vimeo, the Epoch Times reported, argued successfully its terms of service agreement prohibited the streaming of materials promoting “conversion therapy,” a controversial technique legislators in several blue states are currently trying to ban, especially for children under the age of 18. Others including the plaintiff argue however that the tech firm’s action is censorship and is damaging in both the legal and common sense of the word.
Robert Tyler, general counsel for the Advocates for Faith & Freedom said the decision to have the appeal reargued in front of the entire court puts the immunity provision of Section 230 “in the crosshairs of judicial review.”
“Section 230 was not intended to give Big Tech the right to exclude persons from their platform just because the customer is black, Muslim, white, Christian, homosexual, or formerly homosexual. That is plain invidious discrimination,” Tyler said.
The case is important because the digital age has moved the public square from inside the local community to well out into cyberspace. Facebook and Twitter are now the host of the national conversation, fueled by information people gather by using search engines like Google. This is a new reality, leaving more than a few conservatives fearful their opinions and publications and websites are being censored by the “woke” individuals inside the Big tech companies that make decisions about search engine rankings and what can be seen.
The appellate court’s latest action suggests Section 230, which many of its critics believe is the legal justification for online censorship, may not long survive. It is rare for an entire appellate court to rehear a case just to reaffirm a three-judge panel’s decision. Even if it doesn’t, however, those who follow tech platforms and the laws that govern them say there is no guarantee the censoring of individual messages, the de-platforming of people like former President Donald J. Trump, or the termination of services would come to an end if this one part of the CDA is ruled unconstitutional.
Without Section 230 protection – or something like it – platforms and Internet service companies might someday be held responsible for what appears on screens and servers in much the same way the publishers of newspapers are responsible for what appears in print. Not that it would get anyone very far. The bar for proving damages in cases where libel or defamation are alleged was high even before the United States Supreme Court sent it into the stratosphere in its 1964’s Times v Sullivan decision.
Now, the standard of proof in such cases is so rigorous it is rarely met and, even if it is, the requirements involved in proving damage are so onerous as to hardly be a deterrent to sloppy reporting, deliberate maligning, and censorship.
Trump’s recently announced class-action suit against Big Tech CEOs over his de-platforming may be another matter. He contends his first amendment rights were violated following the disruption inside the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6 by these companies acting as agents of the federal government. If he can prove that to be the case, it invokes constitutional scrutiny and potentially tilts the outcome in Trump’s favor.
Ultimately, the court will probably rule in a way that protects the most speech for the most people. The first amendment is an American absolute, not necessarily applicable in all cases – the government can’t imprison me over what I tell my children – but we generally believe as a country that even private institutions should give the amendment due deference. If Big Tech can be shown to have failed in this regard, the consequences could be interesting.
Big Tech is not fighting fair in its push back against former President Donald J. Trump’s campaign to prevent it from censoring conservative opinions and opinion leaders, the American Conservative Union said, citing the recent suspension of its network on YouTube, an internet platform used for video sharing as a prime example of its misconduct.
The ACU, which is the primary sponsor of the Conservative Political Action Conference called the recent removal by YouTube of a recent episode of its “America UnCanceled” posted on its CPAC NOW page censorship.
“YouTube censored CPAC because we stood with former President Donald Trump on his lawsuit against Big Tech,” ACU Chairman Matt Schlapp said in a release, calling the action “another example of Big Tech censoring content with which they disagree in order to promote the political positions they favor.”
The episode in question included coverage of the former president’s attempt to mount a class action suit against tech platforms including Google, YouTube’s parent company. The ACU is a party to the suit, which is being brought on the former president’s behalf by the America First Policy Institute, a group he formed shortly after he left office.
Trump spoke Sunday in Dallas, Texas to the most recent CPAC gathering. That speech also could not be seen on the CPAC NOW YouTube page due to a one-week ban on posting the platform imposed on the organization when it removed the program, the ACU said.
When imposing the ban, the ACU said YouTube cited “medical misinformation” related to COVID-19 conveyed by the program as the reason for it but did not state specifically what the so-called misinformation was. In a statement, the group said it believed Trump’s reference to the possible therapeutic value of hydroxychloroquine as documented in what the ACU described as “sound medical research conducted by the Smith Center for Infectious Diseases & Urban Health and Saint Barnabas Medical Center” may have prompted the internet platform to take the action it did.
The use of hydroxychloroquine to prevent or treat the novel coronavirus, which Trump often promoted while president, is controversial in many political, editorial, and medical circles.
“It is clear that YouTube censored CPAC because we stood with former President Donald Trump on his lawsuit against Big Tech,” said ACU Chairman Matt Schlapp. “This is yet another example of Big Tech censoring content with which they disagree in order to promote the political positions they favor.”
In his remarks to the Dallas confab, Trump called the way Big Tech handles free speech issues, particularly expressions of opinion that conflict with the values of the founders of the major tech platforms “unlawful,” “unconstitutional” and “completely un-American.”
Trump used the speech to continue as well his crusade for an audit of the 2020 presidential election results which, he maintains, was tainted by fraudulent ballots. “The truth was covered up, and it had a giant impact on the election,” he said. “This must never happen to another party’s presidential candidate again. We are the laughingstock of the world.”
Political extremism is by definition problematic. Extremism prevents meaningful discussion and debate and it precludes appropriate compromise — something that in a pluralistic society is necessary as only a tyrant can get 100% of what he wants. The rest of us must, discuss, debate, and work with others to find reasonable and workable compromises.
But extremism isn’t simply believing you’re right. Virtually, everyone who has thought about an issue believes that they are right. That’s entirely normal and there’s nothing wrong with that.
Extremism creeps in when you are so sure you’re right that you feel everyone must agree with you, and that anyone who doesn’t must be forced to accept your views. An extremist doesn’t believe he needs to engage in discussion or debate or build support for his ideas by the logic and power of his arguments. An extremist is willing to use the societal levers of power to force compliance. An extremist has no respect for others to see things differently.
We’ve seen extremists kill others that they deem unworthy or to promote their ideology through fear. This, of course, is extremism in its most heinous and obvious form. We’ve also seen extremism when mobs destroy property, kill others, endanger lives, and demand that the rest of us capitulate to their demands as a result of their threats. This too is easy to condemn. But sadly, some won’t condemn this sort of behavior when it is done by people that they see as aligned with their own views.
But there is another more subtle form of extremism that is widely used in America today and stunningly it is used by many who vociferously claim to be fighting against extremism. What is this form of extremism? Labeling everyone with whom you disagree an extremist, and using the levers of societal power to silence, dismiss and marginalize them.
In the extremist’s mind, other views are not merely wrong — they are so wrong and so entirely without merit that the idea must be silenced and the people who hold that idea must be marginalized and punished. Despite all the talk of unity since the election, there is little evidence that unity is actually sought by the extremists. They demand capitulation and compliance.
For the past decade or longer, Americans who believe that a nation must have secure borders and that immigration must be done according to reasonable and fair laws have been routinely called racists and extremists. Many of these positions were bipartisan or mainstream points as recently as a decade ago.
Likewise, Americans who believe that forcibly shutting down the economy and closing schools during the COVID pandemic was unwise, unnecessary, and even unhelpful are routinely dismissed as not caring about health or life, and now even as Neanderthals. Even the science and data that show little if any benefit from the most strict lockdowns is derided and deemed unworthy of public conversation. The extremists decided that such things couldn’t even be discussed by medical doctors and researchers. In the name of science these topics were forbidden — proving that they have no understanding of what science means.
The label “extremist” is not thrown about because millions of Americans are actually fanatical extremists. Generally, their views have some measure of rationality — if you bother to listen. You don’t have to agree with them. You just have to realize that they are not raving lunatics. You might have different priorities and different interpretations of the facts, but that doesn’t mean their views are so utterly stupid that they must be silenced and marginalized.
The truth is the label “extremist” is too often used as a weapon to silence a large segment of the population, or if it cannot silence them, to dismiss them as unworthy of participating in a national debate. Falsely using the label “extremist” to silence, marginalize and delegitimize others is itself an extremist instinct. A rational and reasonable person is willing to discuss and debate the issues. An extremist doesn’t feel the need to discuss or debate because they already know that they are 100% right, that you are 100% wrong, and that you must be silenced.
This is done daily online with ideological bullies like FaceBook, Instagram, Twitter and Google. The so-called fact checkers label false and misleading almost anything that they disagree with. The “fact checkers” tend to do this zealously to one side, but are more tolerant of the “satirical” or “metaphorical” posts of those they generally agree with. I’ve also noticed that their claims of wanting to provide more “context” is disingenuous because they seem to provide said context mostly for the views with which they disagree and rarely for the ones that support their bias.
Sadly, many of the so-called fact checkers have extremist instincts, and exercise those instincts daily — all while telling us that they are combatting extremism.
The entire point of a debate is to allow both sides to make their best case. If both sides make good cases, great. If one side makes a good case and one does not, that’s good too. It all helps inform the public. But when fact-checkers try to intervene and declare one side is correct, they are simply short-circuiting the debate process. That is far more dangerous than most appreciate — particularly when it is so clearly politically motivated.
I’ve recently seen how this type of extremism can even encourage violence. My mother, also a great grandmother, attended a sign wave during the presidential election, along with about a dozen other senior citizens.
Only a few minutes after gathering, a very angry man in his 20s or 30s stormed over, ripped the signs out of their hands, and shouted threatening profanity while denouncing the senior citizen’s support for the then-current President. My mother asked for her sign back and he hit her so hard that he knocked her to the ground and she lost consciousness. Fortunately, police were nearby and stopped the man and arrested him. My mother has since had surgery to repair her arm that was damaged in the politically motivated attack.
This man was so sure that he was 100% right and that my mother and the others were so completely wrong, that he didn’t need to engage them in a discussion because they were not worthy of a discussion. The online bullies and the media bullies taught him that he needn’t respect people who supported that man. So he decided it was acceptable to steal their signs, physically intimidate them, and assault them.
Additionally, a week or two before the election, I got a call from a concerned citizen warning me that an extremist group with a history of organizing and promoting mob violence had created an online interactive map that was marked with targets that they were directing their groupies to “visit.” I learned that my name and address were marked on the map as a “target” to help the angry mob find me. Evidently, because I’m a conservative, I am worthy of intimidation, threats and perhaps even violence.
This is extremism at its core. And yet, the self-proclaimed opponents of extremism online and in the media are generally silent. It is now acceptable for people to maintain an “enemies” list for the purpose of preventing political adversaries from finding gainful employment. The people who do this are not silenced or marginalized. But the people they do it to are silenced and marginalized.
We should all stand up for free speech and robust discussion and debate. Let’s oppose violence and intimidation wherever and wherever we see it, and not make excuses for it if its practitioners are sympathetic to us. Likewise, let’s oppose the extremist instinct to silence and marginalize people that we disagree with. Sadly, this form of extremism is alive and well in America and it does great harm to the health of our society.
A Lakeland, Colorado citizen’s group filed suit Thursday in federal court challenging the constitutionality of a city law regulating the organization’s reporting on candidates in its newsletter.
Attorneys with the Institute for Free Speech who are representing the Lakewood Citizens Watchdog Group said the city’s requirement for the newsletter to identify donors and to include campaign disclaimers in its articles because the cost of publishing and distributing it crossed a $500 threshold violate the First Amendment.
“If the council can redefine reporting and commentary as campaigning, it can punish news outlets that criticize candidates in the months leading up to an election. Congress and the state of Colorado both exempt the media from their campaign finance laws to avoid this precise outcome,” said Institute for Free Speech Senior Attorney and Deputy Vice President for Litigation Owen Yeates said in a release.
The suit asks the court to find the newsletter, The Whole Story, is protected by the constitutional guarantees of free speech and a free press and that the $3,000 fine it was assessed for violating a local ordinance is unconstitutional.
From 2015 to 2018, the Watchdog published The Whole Story without encountering any problems. In 2019 the city council passed an ordinance imposing regulations on any entity spending more than $500 on communications that mentioned a candidate for office within 60 days of a municipal election. As the new rule made no exemption for the media, it became impossible for the group to report on local elections without potentially being forced to register with the city, publish disclaimers on articles, and expose their supporters, its attorneys said.
The Watchdog’s fall 2019 issue, which covered that November’s elections for mayor and city council, was found by a city adjudicator to be guilty of making “unambiguous references to current candidates” in The Whole Story and ordered to pay $3,000 in fines. To cover future local elections, the group would have to file invasive reports about its supporters with city officials and print campaign-style disclaimers in its newsletter.
While Lakewood’s laws pose a threat to any media outlet, the people behind The Watchdog are not surprised they were targeted first. “We report stories other media outlets won’t, and we aren’t afraid to blow the whistle on the city government. The council may not like it, but that’s what the First Amendment is for,” Dan Smith, president of the Lakewood Citizens Watchdog Group said.
“By failing to exempt news gathering and reporting from its campaign finance laws, Lakewood has unconstitutionally infringed on the freedom of the press,” the group’s brief says. “That freedom is essential to a functioning democracy, even more so in the context of elections. Politicians may wish to control who can speak about them, but they can’t regulate The Whole Story.”
The Watchdog is an independent publication mailed to Lakewood residents two to three times per year, with a circulation of approximately 22,000. The case is Lakewood Citizens Watchdog Group v. City of Lakewood.
By resisting censorship from the government, corporations, or cancel mobs, we reaffirm the value of the freedoms won and cherished in centuries past.
As I wrote in a preceding essay, the First Amendment was written to limit the government’s power. In the 18th century, only the state was conceived as possibly wielding the power to keep free people from speaking their minds. Thus, if maintaining a free people requires free speech, it followed that the government must be kept from controlling speech. For a long time, no more was necessary, but that would change.
As the United States grew in population and prosperity, there was very little agitation against business. There did not need to be. Most businesses were small affairs, owned by one man or one family, employing a handful of workers. Relations between labor and management were dealt with between individuals.
n 1854, Abraham Lincoln summarized this small-scale economy, speaking of a system in which a man “may look forward and hope to be a hired laborer this year and the next, work for himself afterward, and finally to hire men to work for him! That is the true system.”
Yet as corporations grew in size and power, that “true system” changed. Instead of one apprentice negotiating with an owner, a company that employed thousands would tell workers what they would get: take it or leave it.
In response, workers began to join together in trade unions, leveling the playing field, although diminishing their own independence. The balance between workers and management was restored, but the growing power of corporations still overpowered that of individual consumers.
Antitrust and utility laws were the response, but none of this much affected the realm of free speech. There was no news monopoly — newspapers were more plentiful than today — and restrictions on the new technology of radio came from the government, not the station owners. The biggest threat to the practice of free speech remained the state.
Although the two streams of jurisprudence here — anti-monopoly and free speech — did not much overlap in the early twentieth century, some of the same great thinkers were doing work in both. Foremost among these was Louis Brandeis, who joined the Supreme Court in 1916.
Brandeis was a progressive who saw Big Government and Big Business as equally threatening to the average American. Although he focused more on the growth of corporate power in his days as a private lawyer, Brandeis saw the danger in the government becoming too powerful. His solution was to resist consolidation in both regards — keep businesses small and local, and the government could stay small, too.
In regards to free speech, Brandeis also led the resistance to censorship, although often unsuccessfully. While American citizens were the freest in the world in their right to speak and publish, limits remained.
The so-called “Red Scare” that followed communist revolutions in Europe led governments to clamp down on people’s right to advocate socialist ideas in America. In Whitney v. California in 1924, the Supreme Court heard a challenge to one such law. Brandeis was in the minority, but Whitney soon became one of the rare cases more famous for the dissent than for the opinion of the court. Brandeis wrote:
Those who won our independence believed that the final end of the State was to make men free to develop their faculties; and that in its government the deliberative forces should prevail over the arbitrary. They valued liberty both as an end and as a means. They believed liberty to be the secret of happiness and courage to be the secret of liberty. They believed that freedom to think as you will and to speak as you think are means indispensable to the discovery and spread of political truth; that without free speech and assembly discussion would be futile; that with them, discussion affords ordinarily adequate protection against the dissemination of noxious doctrine; that the greatest menace to freedom is an inert people; that public discussion is a political duty; and that this should be a fundamental principle of the American government.
Brandeis’s words remain one of the great summaries of the custom and law of free speech in America and follows the line of thinking started by Milton and Locke. In 1969, the Supreme Court adopted Brandeis’s ideas and overturned Whitney.
Since then, the government’s attempts to restrict free speech have mostly been rebuffed. Some efforts, like the censorship at issue in the 2010 case of Citizens United v. FEC, nearly succeeded, but most failed and failed quickly. The struggle for free speech in law trends toward greater liberty.
Today, however, something novel is happening in America: private actors have become a greater threat to free speech than the government is. Part of that comes from a laudable achievement — we have tamed free speech’s historical foe, the state. But part also comes from the rise of new means of communication that not only displace the old but are uniquely susceptible to monopolization in a way the old media were not.
That means that for the first time, corporate power might be a greater threat to our rights — especially our right to free speech — than the power wielded by the state. This accounts in part for the recent resurgence in antitrust advocacy.
Not long ago, there was considerable diversity not only in the sources of news and entertainment but also in the distribution of such things. Not only have the sources of news been subject to consolidation, but they have become separated from the methods by which they reach us. This vertical dis-integration might be seen as an antitrust success, except that the distribution methods are even more consolidated than the news sources.
The “distribution sources” in question are the social media giants of Facebook and Twitter, along with less powerful players in the field like Reddit and LinkedIn. Instagram and WhatsApp are also cited as delivery methods for news, but it does little good to mention them since they are both owned by Facebook. Consolidation across Silicon Valley has narrowed the real players in Big Tech to about half a dozen: Facebook, Twitter, Amazon, Apple, Google, and Microsoft among them.
As far as free speech is concerned, some of these players are more dangerous than others, but the interaction among them is also a problem. Six big technological competitors might look like a healthy industry, but it is an illusion. While they clash at times, these Big Six have divided up the tech world much as the 19th-century colonial powers divided up the globe. Spheres of influence are mutually respected and the political aims of each align with the others.
First, the social media giants established monopolies in their respective fields. As companies grow in power, they exert control over their marketplaces. They evaded detection in doing so because their monopolies are different from those of the past.
What they monopolize is not a commercial product like Standard Oil’s monopoly on kerosene. Their monopoly is on access to a thing they created and that, outside of their network, cannot exist. As I wrote in the Washington Examiner last year:
There is no place to tweet except Twitter; there is no way to create Facebook posts outside Facebook. If Facebook or Twitter delete your posts or restrict your account, that network is closed to you, and each is a network that increasingly dominates the exchange of ideas. Even beyond the market for news and commentary, access to social media for businesses (especially Facebook) can be a make-or-break proposition.
The monopoly is on each social media company’s network, and the danger is in our increasing reliance on those networks to convey ideas. By 2019, a majority of Americans said they often or sometimes got their news over social media, and the number increases every year.
Unlike old-fashioned monopolies, social media companies use their power not only to exclude competitors but also to exclude customers with whom they disagree. AT&T wanted to control all telephony, but at least they only wanted your money. Facebook and Twitter also want to limit what you say, the equivalent of a telephone operator breaking in to shut down phone calls that their bosses find distasteful.
The Department of Justice shattered AT&T’s monopoly in the 1980s, breaking the company into several “Baby Bells.” The result was cheaper, better telephone service for everyone.
But that precise solution will not work for social media. No one is concerned about the price of a service that is given away for free, and the quality of the apps was never the problem. This network, and equal access to it, is the issue. Destroying that network would make service worse, not better. Moreover, it misses the point.
The intersection of monopoly power with free speech is something new. Even beyond the threat of exclusion from a social media company’s network, the collusion among the networks further stifles free expression. Consider the treatment of a rival social network.
In reaction to Twitter shutting down accounts with whose content it disagreed, two entrepreneurs launched an alternative site, Gab, in 2016. It went public in 2017 and seemed to offer the traditional alternative for dissatisfaction with a business: taking your business elsewhere. If the dispute with Twitter had been a traditional one, such as price or quality, that would have solved the problem.
But the nature of Twitter’s monopoly worked against Gab. Twitter users who had not been banned were reluctant to leave the network, because as unhappy as they were with it, it still offered the best forum for reaching a mass audience. Some maintained accounts at both sites, but only the banned — those who had no other option — were active users at Gab. Google decided it was a hate forum and removed it from their Play Store. Apple had never allowed it in the first place.
Gab was then restricted only to people extremely motivated to seek it out, and it became a deeply unpleasant echo chamber. When it emerged that the perpetrator of the 2018 mass shooting at a Pittsburgh synagogue was an active Gab user, the site was forever known as the home of murderous extremists. The providers that hosted them terminated their arrangements, forcing it further underground. The same process played out with Parler in 2020, and it will play out again for the next would-be Twitter competitor.
Mainstream opinion is unbothered. Few had heard of Gab or Parler, which they could not find in their phone’s app stores, and many who were aware of it associated it with Nazis. Shutting them down was good riddance to bad rubbish.
Those few who raised free speech concerns were told to read the law, as though that is all there is to our ancient liberty. Recent episodes of tech censorship have involved a larger combination of tech companies and taken in a larger swath of users — including a former American president.
The drive to stifle speech is not limited to social media. Other tech monopolies have flexed their muscles. Amazon, which controls a majority of book sales in the United States, has started deciding which kinds of books it will allow. Anything that explores sexual orientation or gender dysphoria as mental illnesses is now forbidden. Tweets and Facebook posts on the subject are also likely to be censored if they voice the “wrong” opinions.
If free speech is necessary to enable individuals to discover virtue and choose their leaders, then monopoly censorship is just as harmful as government censorship. Even beyond the specific harm of stifling free expression, it does harm to the idea of free speech itself.
Legalistic denials from Big Tech supporters — “it’s not censorship if it’s not the government!” — miss the point. By allowing continued monopolies over segments of the public square and acquiescing in a restriction of free thought there, we erode the principle of free speech while piously upholding the laws that do nothing against this new threat.
As long as people believe in free speech, it will endure. According to a 2020 poll by Pew, a majority of Americans see the social media threat for what it is: censorship. That is good news. People are not distracted by the distinction of government and non-government; they see a powerful force trying to muzzle them and do not like it. The people understand that this right belongs to them and will resist anyone who tries to take it away.
The bad news is that such sentiments are declining. Americans, especially the young, increasingly are intolerant of speech that they hate. Instead of the liberty and courage that Brandeis extolled, they seek to decide public questions with private force. Milton and Locke would recognize the methods from their own times, although the actors and questions debated have changed.
That same 2020 Pew poll showed a majority of Democrats endorsing social media companies’ labeling of “inaccurate” tweets and posts. Polling by the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE) that same year finds that significant percentages of college students support suppressing unpopular speech through heckler’s veto (27 percent) or blocking entry to an event (11 percent). Only 4 percent of those surveyed claimed that it was acceptable to use violence to suppress offensive speech, but that is still too many.
We all have reason to doubt the accuracy of polling after the failures of the last few years, but there can be no doubt that the principle of free expression is under renewed threat. Looking at that threat requires reacquainting ourselves with the history of free speech and monopolies. Our forefathers fought censorship and fought monopolistic abuses, but political battles are rarely won for all time. These two are back, joined up in novel fashion, but no different than what came before.
The lessons of Milton, Locke, Bastiat, Lincoln, and Brandeis must guide a new generation to protect our ancient freedoms. If we fail, those freedoms will fade from memory and their protection in law will fade with them. We may vote for legislators, but few of us will ever directly influence the words of a law.
In the custom that underpins the law, though, we all have a role to play. By resisting censorship from the government, corporations, or cancel mobs, we remind the world of the value of the freedoms won and cherished in centuries past, and further reinforce them for the challenges to yet come.
A new Democratic-sponsored Colorado Senate bill is raising eyebrows with the proposed establishment of a state-run ministry of truth to regulate online speech.
The bill, titled “Digital Communications Regulation,” seeks the creation of a digital communications division under the state department of regulatory agencies to regulate online content available in the state. The division will be run by a new commission to serve as government-blessed arbiters of truth.
Under the legislation, proposed by Democratic state Sen. Kerry Donovan, the new commission is tasked with the authority to investigate and hold hearings on claims filed with the division that accuse a particular platform of engaging in what the government declares unlawful conduct. Such conduct under the proposal ranges from promoting “hate speech” to “disinformation,” “fake news,” and “conspiracy theories,” or content the commission determines is meant to “undermine election integrity.” The idea for a similar proposal at the federal level was floated by New York Democratic Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez in January.
The bill puts government force behind an already-implemented progressive purge pursued by Silicon Valley tech giants wielding unprecedented power over the digital public square, with many of the same rules already in place. Such rules, however, which have become more stringently enforced to justify censorship of conservatives and reporting unfavorable to progressive interests, have been applied with remarkable inconsistency.
“We all know from experience at other places where such rules are in place, they’re not applied equally,” Joshua Sharf, a senior fellow in fiscal policy at the Denver libertarian think tank Independence Institute, told The Federalist. “They’re actually impossible to apply equally.”
The contrast between the four-year conspiracy alleging President Donald Trump was a Russian agent and the online suppression of blockbuster revelations published by the New York Post last fall, which implicated then-Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden in his son’s potentially criminal overseas business ventures, illustrates how rules governing online content are arbitrarily enforced for political purposes. There is no shortage of examples highlighting Silicon Valley’s double-standards.
“Realistically, we all know what the intent here is,” Sharf, who runs his own online blog, warned. “The intent here is to limit what Sen. Donovan considers conservative speech.”
Donovan did not respond to The Federalist’s request for an interview.
Under the senator’s legislation, communications-oriented online businesses, including social media platforms and media-sharing platforms with services offered to Colorado residents, would be forced to register with the new government ministry of truth. Failure to do so would classify as a class-two misdemeanor with up to a $5,000 fine each day until they comply.
Republican Colorado Sen. Jerry Sonnenberg, who sits on the State, Veterans, and Military Affairs Committee where the bill was introduced, railed against the proposal as unconstitutional and shared no faith that the independent commission appointed by the governor would dictate online content fairly.
“I have no confidence whatsoever that if the commission was formed it would be somewhat politically diverse,” Sonnenberg told The Federalist. “It’s almost like a giant commission just like Facebook to determine what posts are accurate and what are not.”
Republicans in the state’s upper chamber have already pledged their opposition, though Democrats control both houses of the Colorado legislature.
“Nobody wants an unelected commission of wannabe authoritarians deciding what is and is not ‘fake news’ and what we can and cannot read on the internet,” Colorado Senate Republican spokesman Sage Naumann told The Federalist. “We’re hopeful this bill never makes it to the floor.”
Sonnenberg said he saw no momentum for that happening, even as Democrats hold the majority.
“Anybody with a reasonable mind would look at this bill and go, ‘This doesn’t make sense.’ This indeed is a violation of our First Amendment, a blatant violation,” Sonnenberg told The Federalist. “If this is a party-line vote and it gets out of committee, we have bigger problems in our country.”
Although many lament the dark times for conservative ideas and the death of free speech, they should see this as an opportunity to break free of corrupted institutions.
In a recent edition of the Stanford Review, scholars Scott Atlas, Victor Davis Hanson, and Niall Ferguson wrote a statement defending themselves against the baseless attacks of leftist colleagues at Stanford University who accused them of encouraging extremism, conducting illicit opposition research, and causing the deaths of “tens of thousands” from COVID-19. Atlas then discussed the issue at a virtual student meeting.
These accusations are completely untrue and tied to an antisemitic activist who aligns himself with Antifa. Nevertheless, Atlas, Hanson, and Ferguson felt the need to make their case even if it’s unlikely they will face any real threat to their livelihoods or reputations, as the Hoover Institution and Stanford have backed them.
All of them are highly accomplished intellectuals who have amassed large followings. It is they who bring clout to Stanford, not the other way around.
The real tragedy here is that they have to bother explaining themselves at all. It’s beneath them. They could be writing books, articles, giving talks, and continuing their work, but now they have to waste time with nobodies. Even the leadership of Stanford could see this, which is why this effort to cancel fell flat. Unfortunately, as writer Jonathan Tobin explains, their survival of this cancellation attempt was an exception to the rule.
After all, who in the world is David Palumbo-Lieu, one of the four professors leading the charge against these conservative scholars? Has he spoken out against the blunders of the American government’s COVID-19 policy? Does his CV include so many well-written books and countless articles on a limitless range of topics? Did anyone see him on a popular television series celebrating the key successes of Western culture?
No, Palumbo-Lieu’s great work appears to be praising his students “who occupied and blocked the San Mateo Bridge at peak commuting hours, endangering lives, causing minor car crashes, and getting themselves arrested.”
This episode is reminiscent of the great theologian St. Augustine of Hippo exerting so much energy denouncing the Donatist heresy. Much like today’s left, the Donatists were intellectually bankrupt and frequently resorted to the same petty tactics of destroying their opponents’ reputations with slander, false accusations, and the intervention of corrupt politicians.
That Augustine wasted so much time with them means that he had less time to write another “City of God” or “On Christian Doctrine.” Tallied with every other instance of a great mind taking on what’s beneath him, this Stanford kerfuffle amounts to a great loss in progress. The world is shallower, less informed, and less healthy as a result.
So what should happen in these cases? How do the attempted cancellations stop? As Atlas, Hanson, and Ferguson demonstrate, it isn’t through compromise or complaining; rather, it is through excellence. As the saying goes, success is the best revenge against one’s enemies. It is also the best way to overcome cancel culture.
This doesn’t mean that defending free speech is not important, but it shouldn’t become a fixation. Otherwise, it can detract from the work of building a competing culture and undermine the very reason to preserve free speech itself.
Free speech is the means, not the ends. This point is sometimes lost when people respond to yet another canceling or instance of censorship. Because it seems like conservatives are constantly defending themselves, they end up making the same points repeatedly and struggle with moving forward. As such, leftists can dismiss conservatives for having “no content,” no vision of what they want.
What results is a growing despair over free speech. If the fruits of free speech are partisan mudslinging and rehashing the same arguments, many people stop seeing the point of protecting the freedom to express one’s views.
It also doesn’t help that the left always frames these debates over free speech as about hate speech and misinformation, never around truth and reason. As a result, conservatives have to defend themselves from being called white supremacist Nazis or crackpot conspiracy theorists while leftists tell (often fabricated) sob stories about the many victims of conservative speech.
Since this is what seems to prevail, most people, particularly young people, simply shrug and give up the fight. If this is what free speech looks like, even if conservatives are right and progressives are wrong, it still seems mostly frivolous and needlessly stressful. Like the villain Cypher in “The Matrix,” they prefer to accept that their lies go unchallenged and declare, “Ignorance is bliss.”
This doesn’t mean that Atlas, Hanson, and Ferguson were wrong to write their statement, nor does it detract from their point about free speech. It’s just a shame that they and so many others have to worry about this kind of thing. Rather, Stanford should worry that their best people feel the need to speak out in this fashion.
It’s time to think bigger. Change will only happen when conservatives have their own Stanfords. If elite universities want to go down the paths of critical race theory, social justice activism, and an abandonment of standards, conservatives should build and support alternatives.
As Arthur Milikh points out on last week’s American Mind podcast, conservatives need to stop slamming Ivy League universities only to confer their respect on these places in the next breath. Instead, they need build their own equivalent and dominate. Otherwise, these places won’t change. One would think that the very people who support movements like school choice would understand this.
In all of her novels, Ayn Rand spoke exactly to this problem and offered a vision of what could happen. Whether it’s “Anthem,” “The Fountainhead,” or “Atlas Shrugged,” the primary conflict was always the same: a protagonist is a brilliant creator, but he lives in an envious world that seeks to tear him down.
How does the protagonist resolve this? Not only by making impassioned speeches (although, admittedly, there are few of those), but by continuing to create on his own terms and let his excellence carry the day. Conservatives today need their own version of Galt’s Gulch.
Although many lament the dark times for conservative ideas and the death of free speech, they should see this as an opportunity to break free of corrupted institutions. There is a dearth of excellence that needs to be filled.
Instead of enlisting the best and brightest conservatives for defending conservatism, conservatives should defend their best and brightest so that they can be left free for excellence. That means giving them space and time to do their work, understanding that this is the whole purpose behind preserving freedom. Not only conservative ideas, but the country and the culture, will be all the better for it.
The left’s push to censor, block, and purge is part of a larger project to undermine the American ideal of self-government and liberal democracy.
Last week, YouTube removed videos of former President Donald Trump’s speech at the recent Conservative Political Action Conference, citing violations of its rules about “misleading election claims” under its “presidential election integrity” policy.
Also last week, Ebay blocked all sales and purchases of the half-dozen Dr. Seuss booksrecently deemed unfit for children because they allegedly “portray people in ways that are hurtful and wrong.” Amazon blocked access to a documentary about Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas.
Twitter suspended the account of former House Speaker Newt Gingrich. Facebook continued its purge of QAnon-linked accounts, which began back in October. And the cable network TCM announced a program to reframe classic films like “Breakfast at Tiffany’s,” “The Searchers,” and “My Fair Lady,” which it considers “problematic” and “troubling.”
That was just last week. The growing movement on the left to censor, purge, block, and suspend anyone who expresses disfavored views, or any book or film that some might consider offensive, isn’t just an attack on conservatives or a quixotic war on the past. It represents the single greatest wholesale rejection of liberal democracy, civil society, and the ideal of self-government in American history.
Simply put, the people who will not allow Trump’s CPAC speech to be searchable on YouTube do not think you can think through things and make your own decisions, let alone participate in democratic governance. To them, you are only slightly more intelligent than an animal, and ought to be treated as such.
The reason it matters—and the reason this illiberal, censorious impulse can’t just be laughed off—is that the institutions and industries behind all this are incredibly powerful. They control what you watch, read, discuss, and share—even with your own children.
Disney Plus, for example, pulled a bunch of classic titles from its children’s programming back in January for “negative depictions and/or mistreatment of people or cultures.” The banned films include “Lady and the Tramp,” “Peter Pan,” “The Jungle Book,” and “Dumbo.” The titles are still available, with a disclaimer, on the main streaming service, but the writing is on the wall: if you want your kids to enjoy the originals, better buy the DVD now.
Let’s be clear about something: this isn’t about ferreting out “offensive” content or ideas, or making society more tolerant and inclusive. After all, whether or not something is offensive is relative. This is about taking away your agency, your ability to make choices and decide for yourself what you think, whether it’s about Dr. Suess or a presidential election.
Why else would Amazon pull down a well-reviewed and by all accounts fair and sober book about transgenderism, as they did last week to Ryan T. Anderson’s 2018 book, “When Harry Became Sally”? It’s not because the book is offensive to a wide swath of the reading public. It’s because the ideas presented in it—including the now-radical notion that biological sex is immutable and that encouraging children and teens to “transition” causes irreparable harm—challenge the left’s utopian vision for society.
In other words, it’s not that these ideas are offensive, it’s that they’re in the way. The people who applauded Amazon for taking down Anderson’s book do not want to contend with Anderson’s arguments. It’s much easier for them if a corporate behemoth like Amazon just blots them out, makes them disappear.
Otherwise, Anderson might actually persuade some people that he’s right, that transgenderism isn’t just morally wrong, it’s also bad for society, and maybe we should rethink our sudden embrace of it. Maybe we should have some honest debate about it and let people make up their own minds.
The left would like to take those kind of choices away from you, even (especially) for children’s literature. The hypocrisy of the left in this regard knows no bounds.
CNN’s Jake Tapper, who once championed the publication of controversial images—including cartoons of Mohammed, even though it’s deeply offensive to Muslims—denounced Republicans last week for complaining about the cancellation of Dr. Seuss. Tapper was upset because they keep citing beloved titles like “Green Eggs and Ham,” not the half-dozen books that contain what Tapper calls “empirically racist” images that are “indefensible.”
He’s wrong about that. This is an argument for another column, but the images in those banned Dr. Seuss books are entirely defensible and, to my mind, not at all racist, empirically or otherwise.
But of course one need not defend the content of burned books to protest the burning of them. It’s even possible simultaneously to object to the content of a book and the notion that it should be burned for its content. This is a pretty basic tenet of classical liberalism, and Tapper knows it. He’s just being dishonest.
Everyone, in fact, who champions the banning of books—any books—or films or speeches or whatever, is engaged in a deeply anti-American project to undermine the means by which we form citizens capable of self-government. If you can’t be trusted to think through whether the mention of “Eskimo Fish” in Dr. Suess’s “McElligot’s Pool”is appropriate for your kids, then you certainly can’t be trusted to think through whether the 2020 election was marred by fraud and loose rules for absentee ballots.
Likewise, you can’t be trusted to make decisions about COVID-19, about whether to get a vaccine or wear a mask, which is why Dr. Anthony Fauci saw fit to lie about mask-wearing to the American people at the onset of the pandemic last year. He doesn’t think you can be trusted with the truth because he thinks you’re an idiot child who needs be governed, not an American citizen who has the natural right to govern himself.
When I watch Fauci lie, or see Tapper and his peers cheer digital book-burnings, or see example after example of censorship to protect us from supposedly offensive ideas or images, all I can think of is a line from an interview conducted in 1842 with a veteran of the American Revolution. The man was asked why he fought, and he replied, “Young man, what we meant in going for those redcoats was this: we always had governed ourselves, and we always meant to. They didn’t mean we should.”
Journalists have become the thing they profess to hate — closed-minded censors who want to stifle free expression.
The American media — long stalwart defenders of the First Amendment — are now having second thoughts.
For decades, it was a commonplace sentiment among journalists that freedom of the press was one of the glories of our system. It helped to make the government accountable and to air diverse points of view — even unpopular ones — to be tested in the marketplace of ideas.
Media organizations were at the forefront of the fight to vindicate First Amendment rights, with the New York Times involved in two landmark Supreme Court decisions (New York Times Co. v. Sullivan and the Pentagon Papers case), and tended to rise as one against any perceived threat to their prerogatives and freedoms.
This advocacy has been sincere, although, if nothing else, journalists should be First Amendment purists out of a sense of self-interest. In a 2018 essay in The Atlantic representing the bygone conventional wisdom, titled “Why a Free Press Matters,” the longtime newscaster Dan Rather noted, “As a working journalist, I know I have a stake in this concept.”
One would think so.
Yet now journalists have lurched from finding a threat to freedom of the press in every criticism of reporters and news outlets by former President Donald Trump to themselves calling for unwelcome media organizations to be shut down.
They’ve become the thing they profess to hate — closed-minded censors who want to stifle free expression, First Amendment be damned.
Perversely, the TV program and email newsletter of the top media analyst at CNN, Brian Stelter, have been clearinghouses for such advocacy, whether it is demands to get right-wingers removed from social media or — more astonishingly — to keep conservative cable networks off the airwaves.
Stelter’s colleague, media reporter Oliver Darcy, tweeted about his effort to get cable companies to answer why they carry pro-Trump channels such Newsmax and One America News Network. “Do they have any second thoughts about distributing these channels given their election denialism content?” he asked on Twitter. “They won’t say.”
In the same vein, Washington Post columnist Max Boot drew a direct line between how we deal with foreign terror groups and how we should treat right-wing media organizations. “We need,” he wrote, “to shut down the influencers who radicalize people and set them on the path toward violence and sedition.”
Boot noted, approvingly, that the U.K. doesn’t have the equivalent of Fox News because regulators won’t allow it. The U.K. also doesn’t have a First Amendment, a small detail that might be worth considering if the point is to protect our freedoms rather than to destroy them in a fit of ideological vengeance.
A writer at the progressive publication Mother Jones argued for an advertiser boycott instead of regulatory action in a post called, charmingly, “It’s Time to Crush Fox News.”
A boycott wouldn’t violate the First Amendment like a direct crackdown on Fox and others. Still, it would be private action undertaken in the service of a profoundly illiberal goal, running counter to the country’s culture of free speech.
All of this would be bad enough if it weren’t people who write and comment on TV for a living advocating it. But journalists have been moving in this direction for a while now, as Armin Rosen catalogues in a disturbing report for Tablet magazine.
The author Steve Coll, who is no less than the dean of the Graduate School of Journalism at Columbia University, said last December, “Those of us in journalism have to come to terms with the fact that free speech, a principle that we hold sacred, is being weaponized against the principles of journalism.” The former managing editor of Time magazine, Richard Stengel, has written: “All speech is not equal. And where truth cannot drive out lies, we must add new guardrails.”
And so its erstwhile champions are ready to retreat from strict adherence to the First Amendment to a new rule of “free speech for me, but not for thee.”
How do you make a case against capitalism while appearing to defend consumers’ rights and values? You make a movie called The Social Dilemma.
The movie is cleverly done. It purports to oppose manipulation by Big Tech of social media users, calling out advertisers who manipulate people for profit. At the same time, the movie engages in its own manipulation. How does it do so? To quote Elizabeth Barrett Browning, “let me count the ways.”
State the credentials only of the people on your side
Throughout the ninety-four-minute movie, various commentators argue that social media have done great harm. In every case but one, the commentators criticize social media, warning us of its many harms. The movie states quite prominently, without exception, the credentials for all the negative commentators, and the credentials are impressive. The main commentator throughout is Tristan Harris, identified as a former design ethicist at Google and also as president of the Center for Humane Technology. Another commentator is Sandy Parakilas, identified as a former platform operations manager at Facebook and a former product manager at Uber. Yet another is Justin Rosenstein, whom the movie identifies as a major player at Google and then Facebook. A fourth is Shoshana Zuboff, an emeritus professor at Harvard Business School and author of The Age of Surveillance Capitalism. That’s not a complete list.
In the whole movie, only one person expresses skepticism about the idea that manipulation by social media is sui generis. He expresses this view at a panel in which he challenges the aforementioned Tristan Harris. This skeptic points out that newspapers and print media also played on people’s addictions and ability to be influenced. He notes that when television came along, it did so as well, but in different ways. This, according to the skeptic, is just the next thing.
Here’s what’s most interesting about this skeptic. Only because I’m an economist do I know who he is. “That’s Kevin Murphy,” I said to my wife, who was watching the movie with me. Who’s Kevin Murphy? You wouldn’t know from watching the movie. You had to pay close attention even to know it was Kevin Murphy. I had to pause and rewind and only then did I notice that he had a name card in front of him. Probably not one viewer in fifty notices that, and probably not one viewer in a thousand knows who he is. So let me tell you. Kevin M. Murphy is a star economist at the University of Chicago. He won the John Bates Clark Medal in 1997, given in those days only once every two years to the most outstanding American economist under age forty. He’s the only business school professor ever to win a MacArthur genius award. But the movie tells you none of that.
That’s how the movie deals with controversy: allow only one person to challenge the narrative and don’t even tell the viewer who he is. The basic narrative is that Facebook, Google, and other social media manipulate us. But when it comes to manipulation, those media have nothing on the makers of The Social Dilemma.
Hint at the problem without ever showing the problem
The bad actors in the movie’s narrative are advertisers and the wealthy social media firms. At one point in the movie, Parakilas states, “It’s not like they’re [the social media companies] trying to benefit us. Right? We’re just zombies and they want us to look at more ads so they can make more money.” What’s the problem with that? You might think in a standard-length movie, the critics would try to say why. Here’s the amazing thing: they don’t.
So let’s fill in the missing reasoning. Think about why companies would pay social media firms to advertise. It’s to get people to buy their products. If advertising on social media were seen as completely ineffective, companies would pay precisely zero for advertising. The fact that they keep paying and that social media companies get rich by selling advertising, month in, month out, means that advertising is effective.
Wouldn’t you want the critics in the movie to then point to how advertising manipulates our tastes for products, causing us to buy things we don’t “really” want? Amazingly, they don’t.
The closest the movie comes to making a case is near the end of the movie, when Rosenstein states:
Corporations are using powerful artificial intelligence to outsmart us and figure out how to pull our attention to what they want us to look at, rather than the things that are most consistent with our goals and our values and our lives.
But why would they do that? Isn’t it easier to sell us things that are consistent with our goals, our values, and our lives?
The critics point out numerous times that the companies are continuously refining their algorithms to learn more and more about you. They imply that that’s bad without ever saying why. There’s an old saying whose origin is unknown that goes as follows: “Half the money I spend on advertising is wasted, and the trouble is I don’t know which half.”
I think we can all agree that waste is bad. So isn’t it good rather than bad that advertisers and social media are continually honing their tools to put in front of your eyes items that you really have a high probability of buying? They aren’t there yet. Sometimes when I Google an item I’m thinking of buying, within what seems to be minutes an ad for that item shows up on my Facebook page. It’s almost always mildly annoying, either because the advertised item is a brand I don’t want or because I was just exploring and have decided that I don’t want that item at all. Which means that not half, but perhaps 90 percent, of that advertising was wasted on me.
Some people find it creepy that advertisers know so much about us. I don’t, although I understand the feeling. But think back to how advertisers tried to reach us before social media existed. Imagine that you live in a Jewish household. Which kind of advertising by mail would you dislike more: mailers premised on the assumption that you’re Jewish or mailers premised on the assumption that your household is Muslim, Catholic, or Buddhist?
Make up history
In one segment of the movie, Harris contrasts social media with previous innovations, claiming that no one objected to bicycles on the grounds that those who used them would spend less time with their families. Neither he nor the movie presents any evidence for his claim. But here’s what I found with just a little search (on Google, by the way) about early attitudes toward the bicycle. In a 2001 book titled The Ride to Modernity: The Bicycle in Canada, 1869–1900, author Glen Norcliffe quotes an essay by Heather Watts on early cycling in Nova Scotia. Watts writes:
At a time when higher education, women’s suffrage, and the movement for dress reform were all topics of heated discussion, the bicycle became one more liberating influence on the restricted lifestyle of Victorian women. . . . This element of freedom and independence greatly appealed to women. They were no longer left at home, but could go on outings with their women friends or accompany their young man on an equal basis. Once tasted, the new freedom was hard to abandon.
If bicycling was a liberating force for women, and if women were able to ride with their women friends, is there much doubt about whether some critics at the time claimed that bicycling women would spend less time with their families?
Play up the downside of social media with little attention to the upside
I do think the movie scored a direct hit on a huge downside of social media: the purported effects on people between the ages of ten and nineteen. It presented some disturbing data about the effects on young girls, especially those ages ten to fourteen, of media such as Instagram that encourage them to compare their faces and bodies with what seem to be regarded as ideal body types. Here are two shocking statistics about what has happened since 2011, when Facebook and other social media had become widespread: the number of girls aged ten to fourteen per 100,000 who are admitted to hospitals for cutting themselves or harming themselves in other ways has risen 189 percent, and the number of girls aged ten to fourteen per 100,000 who have committed suicide has risen 151 percent.
One critic, Jonathan Haidt, a psychology professor at New York University’s Stern School of Business, gives a straightforward solution: set an age below which your child is not allowed to use social media and limit your child’s use of such media. To say it’s straightforward is not to say it’s easy. It’s probably hard, but parenting is hard.
To their credit, the critics do mention some upsides to social media. Harris says you can get on your smartphone and have a car show up quickly. Critic Tim Kendall, identified as the former president of Pinterest, notes that social media have helped people find long-lost relatives and organ donors. That’s pretty big.
But there are many more upsides. I can find some half-forgotten poem from high school when I remember only one sentence. That happened just last month with this poem. We can check a fact, we can follow friends, not just family, with whom we had lost touch, and we can compare airfares and make airline reservations in minutes, without either the use of a travel agent or even a phone call. I’ve just scratched the surface.
Discuss the upside as if it’s the downside
Critic Bailey Richardson, an early team member of Instagram, says that when the Internet first started, it was a weird, wacky place with lots of creativity. She recognizes that creative things still happen on the Internet, but now, she says, it feels like a “giant mall.”
That’s bad? Some people whom I’m close to have restricted diets because of various ailments. For them, shopping online has been wonderful. One person in particular needs to keep gluten out of her diet. And she is able to find appealing, tasteful, gluten-free items online much more easily than if she had to shop in her semi-urban, semi-rural part of the country. Imagine if she lived in, say, rural Nevada. Shopping online could be a godsend.
Attack wealth when it’s not that of your allies
At many points in the movie, the critics point out disdainfully how wealthy the social media companies are. That raises two questions. First, is there some chance they got that way by making things we want more available? Answer: yes. Second, how wealthy are these critics? Answer: very. Critic and investor Roger McNamee, for example, is a billionaire. Justin Rosenstein’s net worth is $150 million. The other critics are multimillionaires. Honestly earned wealth is not a mark against the wealthy, whether the wealthy be social media critics or social media firms.
Lay out your real agenda, with no evidence, at the end
Near the end of the movie, probably many viewers are hooked. Then we get to what seems to be the agenda of the critics and the movie makers: to end, or highly regulate, free markets.
Zuboff states, “These markets undermine democracy and undermine freedom and they should be outlawed.” The movie director possibly forgot to insert a sentence or two telling us which markets Zuboff is referring to. Whatever markets she wants to end, that would be a major hit on capitalism.
Rosenstein complains that social media corporations go unregulated “as if somehow magically each corporation acting in its selfish interest is going to produce the best result.” One gets the idea that he’s never read Adam Smith, who indeed did arguein The Wealth of Nations that “it is not from the benevolence of the butcher, the brewer, or the baker that we expect our dinner, but from their regard to their own self-interest.”
Rosenstein also says mining the earth and pulling oil out of the ground are bad for humans. He claims as evidence of a warped, for-profit system that trees and whales are worth more dead than alive. And then he jumps the shark, or maybe I should say the whale, by saying “we’re the tree; we’re the whale.” How exactly social media companies kill us and how exactly they gain from dead consumers he leaves as an exercise for the viewer.
Various friends told me that The Social Dilemma would upset me. It did. As noted, I found the facts about young girls very disturbing. The biggest upset, though, is that a bunch of critics and a movie director manipulate viewers into not knowing that there is another side to this debate, understate the benefits of social media, and use the movie as a vehicle for a rant against capitalism. Other than that, the movie was great.
Just over a week ago, Emanuel Macron said he wanted to end ‘Islamic separatism’ in France because a minority of the country’s estimated six million Muslims risk forming a ‘counter-society’. On Friday, we saw yet another example of this when a history teacher was decapitated in the street on his way home in a Paris suburb. Samuel Paty had discussed the free speech in the classroom and shown cartoons of Mohammed. Some parents had protested, leading to a wider fuss – and, eventually, his murder. M Paty was murdered, Macron said, “because he taught the freedom of expression, the freedom to believe or not believe.” The president is now positioning himself as the defender of French values, determined to drain the Islamist swamp.
That Macron even gave an anti-Islamism speech was itself a sign of how fast the debate is moving in France. Five years ago, when Fox News referred to ‘no-go zones’ in Paris, the city’s mayor threatened to sue. Now we have an avowed centrist like Macron warning that the ‘final goal’ of the ‘ideology’ of Islamism is to ‘take complete control’ of society. Anyone making such arguments just a few years ago would have been condemned by the left as an extremist. Macron is promising a law on ‘Islamist separatism’, restricting home-schooling of Muslims and demanding that Islamic groups in receipt of French state funding will have to sign a ‘secular charter’.
But if he’s serious, why stop there? A week before his speech, for example, there was a stabbing outside the offices of Charlie Hebdo, which France’s interior minister described as an ‘act of Islamist terrorism’ and a ‘new, bloody attack against our country’. It would be brave and powerful to put up a monument in memory of people who were killed by the Islamists while fighting for freedom of speech: perhaps a statue of the Charlie Hebdo team or my late friend Theo van Gogh. At the statue’s unveiling, Macron might refute the false notion — increasingly widespread today — that scrutinising Islamism and Islamists is an act of ‘Islamophobia’. Defending universal human rights is an act of compassion, not a ‘phobia’; failing to make this point only leaves an opportunity for the real bigots of the far right.
In his speech, Macron also said that the ‘challenge is to fight against those who go off the rails in the name of religion… while protecting those who believe in Islam and are full citizens of the republic’. If he really means this, perhaps he could provide security and support to those French Muslims courageously speaking out against radical Islam? He could also support those French Muslims who seek to modify Sharia, historically contextualise the Sunnah (traditional Muslim practices) and establish a meaningful boundary between religion and state by challenging doctrinal purity. In the effort to combat the extremists, it is vital to distinguish the Muslims pushing for real change from the Islamists with silver tongues. A great many French Muslims are fighting against the Islamists, and Macron could do far more to support them.That he even gave an anti-Islamism speech was a sign of how fast the debate is moving in France
The battle of ideas against Islamism will, of necessity, be a long one and if he hopes to succeed Macron must ensure that French civil society and philanthropic foundations are fully engaged in this effort. He should disband subversive Islamist organisations that lay the ideological groundwork for violence, while calling on his fellow European leaders to do the same. It’s amazing how many of them, even now, prefer to avoid the topic.
He might also strengthen immigration laws to ensure that French civic values are taken into account in admission decisions. Those admitted to the Republic from abroad should be told to embrace the French notion of social cohesion, which means they cannot embrace separatism or Islamism, or belong to organisations that do.
Existing laws should be used more too. Not so long ago, an Algerian woman who refused to shake hands with male officials at a French naturalisation ceremony was denied citizenship as a result. Islamists can, in this way, be served notice that France is not their natural home.
French law allows the government to reject naturalisation requests on grounds of ‘lack of assimilation, other than linguistic’. So in the spirit of this law, Macron should start to repatriate asylum-seekers who engage in violence or the incitement of violence — particularly against women.
In foreign policy, he could tackle the ideological extremism that is disseminated by the governments of Qatar and Turkey — among others — through their support of Islamists, Islamist foundations and communitarianism in Europe (including France). He could take a much stronger stand against the Iranian regime — bilaterally as well as at the EU level — for its hostile activities on European soil, its vicious cruelty towards its own population and its efforts to export revolutionary Islamism throughout the Middle East. This would also mean further strengthening France’s ties to Israel, the UAE and Egypt and demanding that Saudi Arabia stop funding Wahhabi extremists abroad.
France’s corps diplomatique still possesses exceptional historical and linguistic knowledge of Africa, Asia and the Middle East. This could be used to counter the activities of groups such as the Muslim Brotherhood, Tablighi Jamaat, Hezbollah, Hizb ut-Tahrir and their many branches and offshoots. Macron says his Bill will ‘dissolve’ Islamic groups whose principles clash with those of the French Republic. He can do so by cutting off the financial flows from foreign powers to the Islamist organisations within France.
Macron is right: Islamic separatism does indeed threaten to turn France into two nations. But if the problem is to be addressed, the French people need to be shown that the President has the guts not just to call out radical Islam — but also to take real, practical steps to defeat it.
Last week, at the invitation of Sen. Ted Cruz, I spoke to the Senate Judiciary Committee about Google’s having placed more than 60 Prager University videos on its restricted list. Any family that filters out pornography and violence cannot see those particular videos on YouTube (which is owned by Google); nor can any school or library.
This statement is as much about what I and PragerU stand for as it is about Google. Those interested in viewing the presentation can do so here:
It is an honor to be invited to speak in the United States Senate. But I wish I were not so honored. Because the subject of this hearing — Google and YouTube’s (and for that matter, Twitter and Facebook’s) suppression of internet content on ideological grounds — threatens the future of America more than any external enemy.
In fact, never in American history has there been as strong a threat to freedom of speech as there is today.
Before addressing this, however, I think it important that you know a bit about me and the organization I co-founded, Prager University — PragerU, as it often referred to.
I was born in Brooklyn, New York. My late father, Max Prager, was a CPA and an Orthodox Jew who volunteered to serve in the U.S. Navy at the start of World War II. My father’s senior class thesis at the City College of New York was on anti-Semitism in America. Yet, despite his keen awareness of the subject, he believed that Jews living in America were the luckiest Jews to have ever lived.
He was right. Having taught Jewish history at Brooklyn College, written a book on antisemitism and fought Jew-hatred my whole life, I thank God for living in America.
It breaks my heart that a vast number of young Americans have not only not been taught how lucky they are to be Americans but have been taught either how unlucky they are or how ashamed they should be.
It breaks my heart for them because contempt for one’s country leaves a terrible hole in one’s soul and because ungrateful people always become unhappy and angry people.
And it breaks my heart for America because no good country can survive when its people have contempt for it.
I have been communicating this appreciation of America for 35 years as a radio talk show host, the last 20 in national syndication with the Salem Radio Network — an organization that is a blessing in American life. One reason I started PragerU was to communicate America’s moral purpose and moral achievements, both to young Americans and to young people around the world. With a billion views a year, and with more than half of the viewers under age 35, PragerU has achieved some success.
My philosophy of life is easily summarized: God wants us to be good. Period. God without goodness is fanaticism and goodness without God will not long endure. Everything I and PragerU do emanates from belief in the importance of being a good person. That some label us extreme or “haters” only reflects on the character and the broken moral compass of those making such accusations. They are the haters and extremists.
PragerU releases a five-minute video every week. Our presenters include three former prime ministers, four Pulitzer Prize winners, liberals, conservatives, gays, blacks, Latinos, atheists, believers, Jews, Christians, Muslims and professors and scientists from MIT, Harvard, Stanford and a dozen other universities.
Do you think the secretary-general of NATO; or the former prime ministers of Norway, Canada or Spain; or the late Charles Krauthammer; or Philip Hamburger, distinguished professor of law at Columbia Law School, would make a video for an extreme or hate-filled site? The idea is not only preposterous; it is a smear.
Yet, Google, which owns YouTube, has restricted access to 56 of our 320 five-minute videos and to other videos we produce. “Restricted” means families that have a filter to avoid pornography and violence cannot see that video. It also means that no school or library can show that video.
Google has even restricted access to a video on the Ten Commandments … Yes, the Ten Commandments!
We have repeatedly asked Google why our videos are restricted. No explanation is ever given.
But of course, we know why: because they come from a conservative perspective.
Liberals and conservatives differ on many issues. But they have always agreed that free speech must be preserved. While the left has never supported free speech, liberals always have. I therefore appeal to liberals to join us in fighting on behalf of America’s crowning glory — free speech. Otherwise, I promise you, one day you will say, “First they came after conservatives, and I said nothing. And then they came after me. And there was no one left to speak up for me.”
By Mairead Mcardle • National Review
Federal Communications Commission chairman Ajit Pai said Friday that some advocates of net neutrality saw a political advantage in fomenting fear about the policy’s end.
Pai joined Charles Cooke of National Review at the National Review Institute’s 2019 Ideas Summit to discuss how the agency’s role has changed from its founding in the 1930s to today.
“Net neutrality” is a “very seductive marketing slogan,” Pai said. But “ultimately what it means is government regulation of the Internet.”
“As to the question of why people are upset, I’ll be candid. I think it’s because a lot of people saw a political advantage in fomenting a lot of fear,” he continued, recalling the doom-and-gloom warnings of critics who warned that Pai’s rollback of Obama-era net-neutrality regulations would be the “end of the Internet as we know it.”
“Last time I checked, you can still hate-tweet your favorite FCC chairman,” he quipped.