One of the great contributions of Western Civilization is the phrase, “I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it.”
Coined by Voltaire biographer Evelyn Beatrice Hall, the quote summarizes everything ennobling, powerful, and magnificent about classical liberalism, so it’s horrifying to see so many self-described liberals reject this for quick political gains – on college campuses or wherever. Alas, now some Republicans want to do the same.
Based on the accusation that Silicon Valley discriminates against conservatives, FCC Chairman Ajit Pai has raised the idea of federally enforcing speech standards against Big Tech, notably Facebook and Twitter.
The accusation has some merit; the proposed measure does not.
Facebook might sometimes hinder conservatives, but usually it’s an accident, and they fix things when people complain. Google probably favors left-wing sites in its search algorithm a little. Twitter absolutely restricts conservative speech, but smilingly allows leftist hate speech until it gets scooped up by the increasingly hypocritical New York Times.
None of these things get me thrilled, but government interference in them is worse.
Despite how powerful they are, Google, Facebook, and Twitter cannot actually censor people. Censorship means a voice is silenced through the use of force, typically a government’s. That doesn’t describe Silicon Valley titan’s behavior, even if every conservative accusation against them is true.
As loathsome and awful as Twitter is, Twitter cannot prevent anyone from expressing themselves — but if Twitter wants to regulate how users use Twitter’s own platform for free, then that is Twitter’s business.
Conservatives can complain about this behavior — and we should — but we cannot demand the government get involved and still call ourselves conservatives.
Pai’s desire to regulate Silicon Valley is particularly aggravating given his opposition to net neutrality. Pai embraced conservative orthodoxy in opposing heavy-handed government regulation, he rejected net neutrality – but now he wants it.
Conservative opposition to net neutrality is outlined in this video from PragerU, which, incidentally, YouTube has not blocked. YouTube disapproves what PragerU has to say on the subject, but they have defended Prager’s right to say it.
It is, of course, ironic for Silicon Valley to curtail conservative voices, given that conservative principles are behind its raging success: Ronald Reagan’s military build-up created the necessary critical mass of engineers, who could then thrive and grow in a lacuna of regulation, taxation, and unionization.
So, it’s a hypocrisy of great historical irony for Silicon Valley to oppose conservatism. And it’s self-defeating. Facebook wants to be as popular as possible. Google doesn’t want to give people any more reason to use duckduckgo than they already have. And the force keeping Twitter relevant in recent years as users have fled is Donald Trump himself.
Trump has created an entire cottage industry of ankle-biting bottom feeders to mock his every tweet. Indeed, Twitter is the first American industry Trump saved!
But if Twitter chooses to silence him, it’s their right.
The eagerness to silence dissenters is still annoying, of course. It’s borne from the unjustifiable sense of moral superiority that has become the hallmark of “progressivism.” If the movement were truly that amazing, San Francisco — both the most progressive and richest city in America – would be paradise. Yet the city with the most billionaires also has the highest rate of homelessness. It has the country’s highest rate of childlessness, and the streets are literally covered in feces.
Only an arrogance that borders on delusion would call this “progress.” But if the people who live there — who created the technology that allows me to write this and share it — want to insist that progress means staggering inequality, human extinction, and streets covered in shit, then they have that freedom.
There is a niggling doubt that perhaps Republicans in Washington don’t really want to regulate Silicon Valley, they just want to draw attention to the issue for the mid-terms. But they’re ignoring two much bigger problems.
One is how Big Telecom has been free to get their hooks into us, violate our privacy, and sell our user data to third parties. Telecoms may have been on the more conservative side in net neutrality, and now they want to leverage that to attack Big Tech competitors with regulation. Conservatives can’t let telecoms drag us onto the wrong side of that fight.
The second is the disturbing pattern of violence left-wing elements have adopted in recent years. One day it’s setting a GOP office in Wyoming on fire, the next it’s trying to stab a Republican candidate. Whether it’s Antifa or whomever, many self-described liberals have descended into mob violence, with far too many others idly standing by, silently nodding approval, or actually egging it on.
Such criminal behavior openly contradicts, “I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it,” and deserves more attention than Twitter.
Jared Whitley is a political veteran with 15 years of experience in media and Washington politics. He has served as press liaison for Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) and associate director in the White House under George W. Bush.
The views and opinions expressed in this commentary are those of the author and do not reflect the official position of The Daily Caller.