By Kyle Smith • National Review
The First Amendment has never been stronger. Yet freedom of speech is under dire threat. Both of these things can be true, and both are.
The kinds of corporations that frequently proclaim their dedication to the First Amendment — and are quick to denounce President Trump’s taunts of the media — are doing something Trump has not done and will not do: muzzling writers. Publishers are presenting authors with contracts containing clauses that essentially say, “We will cut you loose should a Twitter mob come after you.” It’s a revolting, shameful trend.
As Judith Shulevitz writes in the New York Times, Condé Nast, publisher of The New Yorker, Vanity Fair, and many other magazines, recently started burying in its standard writers’ contracts a landmine. If the company should unilaterally rule that the writer has become “the subject of public disrepute, contempt, complaints or scandals,” the publisher can void the contract. Shulevitz mislabels such stipulations “morality clauses.” To paraphrase Mae West, morality has nothing to do with it. “Cowardice clauses” would be nearer the mark. Continue reading
By Jeremy Carl • The Federalist
Less than two weeks ago, President Trump signed the U.S.-Mexico-Canada Agreement intended to be the successor to the North American Free Trade Agreement, which Trump has attacked for decades. The White House says the agreement will “better serve the interests of American workers and businesses” and “includes the strongest digital trade … provisions of any United States trade agreement.”
Unfortunately, an obscure article in one provision of the agreement only serves the interests of the largest tech monopolies by granting them special privilege to censor conservatives. Congress should demand the removal or amendment of this article before giving consent to confirm section 230.
How did this happen? Big Tech lobbyists orchestrated the quiet insertion of a seemingly innocuous provision (Article 19.17) into the deal that is based on Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act. Continue reading
by Katherine Timpf • National Review
Nobody likes a mean person, and it’s better to be nice. But there is nothing nice about restricting students’ speech.
The University of Montana Western has a policy that allows for punishing students for “mean” words or “facial expressions” — and that punishment could technically be as severe as expulsion.
“While discussions may become heated and passionate, they should never become mean, nasty or vindictive in spoken or printed or emailed words, facial expressions, or gestures,” states the Student Code of Conduct.
Another area of the code states that “committing any act prohibited by this Code of Conduct may result in expulsion or suspension from the University unless specific and mitigating factors are present.”
“Factors to be considered in mitigation may include the present attitude and past disciplinary record of the offender, as well as the nature of the offense and the severity of any damage, injury, or harm resulting from it,” the code continues. Continue reading
By James Altschul • The Federalist
After two days of public outcry, Twitter has reinstated the account of conservative commentator Jesse Kelly. Contradicting their initial message to Kelly, which notified him that his account had been “permanently suspended” and “[would] not be restored,” a Twitter spokesperson stated on Tuesday that Kelly’s account had instead been “temporarily suspended for violating the Twitter rules.” Precisely which rules Kelly violated were not specified.
Given the opacity of the process, we can only speculate on what caused Twitter to reverse course, but a good bet would be the threat of governmental reprisal hinted at by tweets from Sen. Ben Sasse and Senator-elect Josh Hawley.
While Sasse merely commented that “The trend of de-platforming and shutting down speech is a bad precedent for our free speech society,” Hawley was more explicit, writing, “The new Congress needs to investigate…Twitter is exempt from liability as a ‘publisher’ because it is allegedly ‘a forum for a true diversity of political discourse.’ That does not appear to be accurate.” Continue reading
We can remember when the left used to accuse conservatives of being prudish censors. Now it’s the left that appears determined to censor speech it doesn’t like. And they appear to have three incredibly powerful allies in their quest: Facebook, Twitter and YouTube.
The CEO’s of those tech giants — Mark Zuckerberg, Jack Dorsey, and Susan Wojcicki — routinely describe their services as neutral platforms, fiercely committed to openness and free expression.
“Twitter stands for freedom of expression,” Dorsey once declared. Twitter’s general manager in the U.K. once called it “the free speech wing of the free speech party.”
YouTube parent Google claims that “the flow of ideas and open access to information on the web helps communities grow and nations prosper.”
Zuckerberg told a Senate hearing on Tuesday that Facebook is “a platform for all ideas.” Continue reading
by Ben Domenech • The Federalist
The firing of Kevin Williamson from The Atlantic on the day he was set to give an opening Q&A in their offices was sadly unsurprising given the pattern of these types of hires. It is an incident that will be referred to largely as a “media story”, meaning that Williamson is not a figure so prominent nor The Atlantic a brand so ubiquitous as to graduate this to a national story, in the way that the situations of Brendan Eich at Mozilla or James Damore at Google became national cable news stories. But they really are the same story, a story about the times that we live in and the changing nature of America. They tell a story about what happens when a talented individual has deeply held beliefs those in his profession find unacceptable.
This story is a predictable continuation of the left’s ownership not just of media but indeed of all institutions. It is depressing. It is predictable. And it is where we are as a country now. It is not confined to the realm of ideas. Eich, Damore, Williamson and others are subject to blacklists and HR reports and firing in every arena of industry and culture. If you have wrongthink, you will not be allowed for long to make your living within any space the left has determined they own – first the academy, then the media, then corporate America, and now the public square. You will bake the cake, you will use the proper pronoun, and you will never say that what Planned Parenthood does is murder for hire, and should be punished as such under the law.
Imagine what the few lonely voices that inhabit a position at a prominent publication or network to the right of Hillary Clinton on social issues if their hiring was taking place right now. Imagine what Ross Douthat would be going through if the Times hired him today (recall he was at The Atlantic before that). Continue reading
By Joseph A. Wulfsohn • The Federalist
In recent years, especially since Russia’s interference in the 2016 election, Internet giants like Facebook, YouTube, and Twitter have started policing things they find offensive or deem “fake news.” However, they often reprimand individuals whose politics lean one way and leave unscathed others whose politics lean another way.
While this is common knowledge among conservatives, the most recent examples of such a double standard are truly glaring. Conservative commentator and comedian Steven Crowder uploaded a video onto his YouTube channel that showed his intern crashing an LGBT panel on gender fluidity at SXSW, where he went undercover as a man who identified as a computer. YouTube removed the video. And Twitter suspended Crowder’s account.
According to screenshots, this was Twitter’s reasoning behind what was initially a 12-hour suspension: “Violating our rules against hateful conduct. You may not promote violence against, threaten, or harass other people on the basis of race, ethnicity, national origin, sexual orientation, gender, gender identity, religious affiliation, age, disability, or serious disease.” Continue reading
By Douglas Murray • National Review
It’s much more comfortable for those in power to go after amorphous concepts than to address real-world issues.
At the start of January this year a new law came into effect in Germany. The “NetzDG” law allows an un-named and unknown collection of government agencies and tech companies to police the Internet and remove content deemed to be “hateful” or otherwise deemed to constitute “hate speech.” Around the world politicians from other nations are looking at these laws with envy.
Of course, the whole notion of “hate speech” should warrant far more suspicion and push-back than it has done recently. Incitement to violence is already illegal in most countries. As are credible threats to kill someone. But “hate speech” brings a high bar down several pegs. And the problem with it is not only that it attempts to read purpose and imagined consequences into words, but that it inevitably comes framed to give ideological protection to whoever wields power at a particular point in time.
The temptation is obvious. In Germany “hate speech” can include words that are true and which are accurately critical or even merely descriptive of terrible events that are going on: particularly events that have followed from Angela Merkel’s open-borders policy of 2015. Doubtless the crack-down on her online critics is comfortable for Merkel and the government she has finally managed to assemble. But you have to have a remarkably short political memory to think that banning words that accurately describe situations is a wise way to try to order society. Continue reading
By Nicole Russell • The Federalist
The Federalist society at the Lewis and Clark Law School invited Christina Hoff Sommers, scholar, author, and outspoken critic of feminism to speak Monday, and student groups quickly organized to get her invitation rescinded. When that didn’t work, protesters gathered inside and outside the venue, accused her of being a fascist, and Sommers’ actual speech was cut short, due to protestors’ interruptions and heckling.
The fact that law school students, acting more like social justice warriors than thoughtful scholars, would falsely label Sommers as a fascist, yet prohibit her from speaking at a venue, is a bad sign about the future of our public discourse and the right of free speech. Apparently it needs to be said that Christina Hoff Sommers is not a fascist. She isn’t. Continue reading
By David French • National Review Online
If you follow free-speech controversies for any length of time, you’ll understand two things about public opinion. First, an overwhelming percentage of Americans will declare their support for free speech. Second, a shocking percentage of Americans also support censoring speech they don’t like. How is this possible? It’s simple. “Free speech” is good speech, you see. That’s the speech that corrects injustices and speaks truth to power. That other speech? The speech that hurts my feelings or hurts my friends’ feelings? That’s “hate speech.” It might even be violence.
A new survey of college students demonstrates this reality perfectly. Conducted by McLaughlin & Associates for Yale’s William F. Buckley, Jr. Program, the survey queried 800 college students attending four-year private or public colleges, and the results were depressingly predictable. Continue reading
By Glenn Reynolds • USAToday
The former governor showed himself to be a constitutional illiterate on Twitter.
I tell my constitutional law students that there are a couple of statements that indicate that a speaker is a constitutional illiterate who can safely be ignored. One is the claim that the Constitution views black people as ⅗ the worth of white people (actually, it was all about power in Congress, with slaveowners wanting black people to count 100% toward apportionment so that slaveowners would get more seats in Congress, and abolitionists wanting them not counted at all so that slaveowners would get fewer seats in Congress; the ⅗ compromise was just that, a compromise).
The other hallmark of constitutional illiteracy is the claim that the First Amendment doesn’t protect “hate speech.” And by making that claim last week, Howard Dean, former governor of Vermont and Democratic presidential candidate, revealed himself to be a constitutional illiterate. Then, predictably, he doubled down on his ignorance. Continue reading
By David French • National Review
When free speech threatens government power, government has a tendency to get curious about the identity and funding of dissenting speakers. This was true in the civil-rights era, when the state of Alabama tried to force the NAACP to divulge its membership lists. It was true during the Obama administration, when the IRS targeted the Tea Party for illegal scrutiny not merely by asking in some cases for donor lists but also by inquiring about the political activities of family members of tea-party leaders and the login information of tea-party websites. And it was certainly true in the state of Wisconsin, when law enforcement used terrifying dawn and pre-dawn raids to gather information about First Amendment–protected issue advocacy about labor-union reform.
But why threaten to batter down a door when you can just pass a law that batters away at the Constitution? Continue reading
By Peter W. Wood • The Federalist
The Middlebury College protest on March 2 that silenced an invited speaker and hospitalized a popular professor has continued to garner attention.
More than 100 Middlebury professors—included the one injured in the encounter—have signed a statement of principles, Free Inquiry on Campus, upholding the classic virtues of “free, reasoned, and civil speech.” The document implicitly repudiates the actions of some other Middlebury professors who instigated the effort to deny Dr. Charles Murray the opportunity to speak on campus.
The American Political Science Association, representing 13,000 professors and students, issued its own statement condemning “Violence at Middlebury College.” The APSA statement says, in part, “The violence surrounding the talk undermined the ability of faculty and students to engage in the free exchange of ideas and debate, thereby impeding academic freedom on the Middlebury campus.” Continue reading
by David French • National Review
I’m supposed to be encouraged, but I’m not.
In the aftermath of this month’s violent attack on Charles Murray and a Middlebury professor, I’m supposed to be encouraged, as a supporter of free speech and academic freedom in higher education, that pundits, professors, and writers from across the political spectrum have united to condemn mob censorship. I’m supposed to be encouraged that even stalwart men of the left such as New York Times columnists Frank Bruni and Nicholas Kristof are waking up to the modern American academy’s serious intellectual-diversity problem. And I’m supposed to be encouraged that Middlebury’s president and dozens of Middlebury professors have united to express their support for free speech.
But I’m not.
I’m certainly grateful for the near-unanimous condemnation of the protesters and rioters at Middlebury (and also at Berkeley, where the so-called “black bloc” shut down Milo Yiannopoulos’s planned speech, started fires, vandalized shops, and beat Trump supporters in the streets), but I’m not encouraged, and I don’t think other free-speech advocates should be either. Continue reading
“The Mob at Middlebury” (Review & Outlook, March 4) recalled an invitation in the 1970s I received from friends to attend the graduation of their daughter from Vassar College. The name of the guest speaker was an added inducement for us to attend. When we arrived on campus, we were informed that the president of the college would deliver the commencement address. She gave an eloquent speech extolling the virtues of the valuable liberal
education available at Vassar. The students had voted to reject the invitation to the scheduled speaker because of his political views. His name was William F. Buckley. Alas, history repeats itself.
Copiague, N.Y. Continue reading