SORRY CONSERVATIVES: You Don’t Have Free Speech On Facebook Or Twitter

Carl Szabo | General counsel for NetChoice and law professor

Conservative groups often say “private companies should be free to conduct their operations as they see fit, without undue governmental interference.” This is, of course, a fundamental tenet of conservative principles — as is limited government. Those principles and the first amendment protect our free speech both publicly and privately.

Under these principles, Fox News can be a conservative organization, while MSNBC can cover the other end of the political spectrum. Both rightly operate without the government dictating what political views they favor. Likewise, core conservative principles would oppose Congress holding hearings and passing laws to ensure that the Drudge Report doesn’t favor conservative views over liberal ones.

Unfortunately, it seems that some conservatives have forgotten their principles when it comes to social media.

Recently, several conservative groups surprisingly called for government action over what a private businesses allows on its website — in this case, the business is Facebook. The conservative group letter calls for governmental investigation of the content moderation that occurs on a private business’s website. While these groups don’t expressly call for new laws or regulations, those things are the logical outcome of Congressional oversight and investigation.

Today, businesses can moderate their online platforms for content that they find objectionable. This moderation enables businesses to keep their promises to users regarding the quality and content of their platform. Also, it allows platforms to differentiate themselves by tailoring content for a particular interest.

If Twitter decided to only allow “dog” pictures and removed photos of “cats,” conservative principles would allow it. Likewise, if platforms wanted to favor one political ideal over another, true conservatives, and really anyone who believes in free expression, should say the platform is free to do so.

Some have argued that conservative claims of censorship are overblown. Others contend there is a bias against conservative content on most online platforms. Nonetheless, it’s reasonable to suspect that a business based in San Francisco run by a young CEO has a liberal slant. But that’s not the point here. The point here is that government shouldn’t police a company’s free expression.

It’s easy to get swept up in the victimhood chic of thinking large platforms are trying to suppress your point of view.

If a business decides to favor your point of view, you would likely see that as a good thing and spend more time on that platform. Conversely, you would be less likely to spend time on the opposing platform. But at the end of the day, businesses must be allowed to do as they see fit. And as users, if we don’t like something, we can simply go somewhere else, allowing the market to pick winners and losers.

It’s worrisome that the hysteria about alleged actions by a private business on their own private website could cause conservatives to abandon the central foundation of their ideology.

Hopefully conservatives hold steadfast to their principles and do not quickly abandon them for short-term political gains. It is time that conservatives rethink any missteps and return to asserting the benefits of limited government for both the online and offline worlds.

Carl Szabo is general counsel for NetChoice, a trade association of eCommerce businesses and online consumers. Facebook is a member of NetChoice. Szabo is also an adjunct professor of privacy law at the George Mason University Antonin Scalia Law School.


The views and opinions expressed in this commentary are those of the author and do not reflect the official position of The Daily Caller.

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