Opinion

Is Free Speech Under Attack By Tech Companies And Media Outlets With A Left-Leaning Agenda?

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Will Ricciardella Social Media Strategist and Politics Writer

ProPublica published an article Saturday lamenting big tech companies that “help extremist sites monetize hate,” praising them for withdrawing services from some on their list, and insisting that the center-left companies do more to enforce their policies of not servicing “hate websites.”

One site that was successfully shut down was The Daily Stormer, a white supremacist hate site. GoDaddy, Cloudflare and Google all withdrew their services to the site, leaving it adrift. But where is the line, and with Silicon Valley tech companies that decidedly lean left, will sites they disagree with on the right also be targeted?

“This was an ominous development for free speech” writes the National Review‘s David French, “not because there is anything at all valuable about The Daily Stormer’s message. It’s an evil site.” What concerning, French writes, is that the demise of The Daily Stormer serves as a “reminder that a few major corporations now have far more power than the government to regulate and restrict free speech.”

“In the wake of last week’s violent protest by alt-right groups in Charlottesville, more tech companies have disavowed relationships with extremist groups. During just the last week, six of the sites on our list were shut down,” writes ProPublica, a left-wing non-profit. ProPublica’s “list,” however, is hardly compiled in a unbiased and objective manner.

“Like other media outlets, we relied in part on the Southern Poverty Law Center’s public list of “Active Hate Groups 2016” writes ProPublica.

At issue in particular is the media’s use of the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) and the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) to single out groups that should be targeted by tech companies for removal. Many on the right claim that the ADL and the SPLC are left-leaning organizations that use their list as a political cudgel against those they don’t agree with, like traditional Christian conservative organizations and others that oppose illegal immigration, unjustly lumping them together with white supremacist groups.

ProPublica’s article didn’t target other organizations that are easily considered hate sites like The Daily Stormer, but instead targeted JihadWatch.org, for their director taking the position that “traditional Islam itself is not moderate or peaceful.” This position is certainly debatable, but hardly constitutes white supremacy. The SPLC called them “extremely hostile” to Muslims and labeled them a hate group.

“But its designation as a hate site hasn’t stopped tech companies — including PayPal, Amazon and Newsmax — from maintaining partnerships with Jihad Watch that help to sustain it financially,” lamented ProPublica.

CNN released the SPLC’s hate group list last Thursday without questioning its political leanings. Many organizations on the list are wrongly labeled hate groups for supporting conservative causes, including the Center for Immigration Studies, Alliance Defending Freedom, ACT for America, and Americans For Legal Immigration (ALIPAC).

In July, former Reagan Attorney General Ed Meese wrote a scathing opinion piece in The Wall Street Journal hammering the media for parroting the SPLC’s designation of the Alliance Defending Freedom, a Christian law firm dedicated to protecting religious liberties, as a hate group.

“The designation had nothing to do with the law firm’s policies or behavior,” Meese wrote. “It’s just that the SPLC objects to its traditional views on the Constitution, the First Amendment and the meaning of marriage. No responsible media outlet should parrot the SPLC’s hate list without seeking to understand not only its motives but also the consequences of spreading false charges.”

ProPublica defends the SPLC’s credibility by pointing out that Dylann Roof, a white supremacist convicted of murdering nine black people at a church in Charleston, frequented a “white nationalist” website included on SPLC’s hate group list.

ProPublica also claims that the SPLC provides “detailed explanations for many of its designations,” specifically singling out the Family Research Center, a traditional Christian group, in the article as an example of a hate group for using “discredited science and unsubstantiated attacks” on gays and lesbians.

Never mentioned, however, is the Family Research Center was at the center of a domestic terrorist attack  after the attacker found the Christian group listed by the SPLC as “anti-gay.” Shortly after the attack, the FBI dropped both the SPLC and the ADL as a “resource” to determine hate groups.

ALIPAC released a press statement Tuesday aimed at “Google, PayPal, Facebook, and Twitter” for “taking steps to suppress and silence websites and groups” under the direction of “alt-left” organizations such as the SPLC and the ADL.

“Since these companies are now clearly in a position of power and supremacy capable of having a chilling impact on public issue debates and elections as well as the Civil Rights of all Americans, ALIPAC is now asking Congress to step in and apply new regulations to the global communications and financial companies Google, PayPal, Facebook, and Twitter,” the statement reads.

It’s a timely statement considering that in late July, some in the Trump administration called for “essential tech platforms” such as Google and Facebook to be regulated as public utilities.

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