CBS anchor Anne-Marie Green openly advocated for the U.S. government to censor speech online in a recent segment, prompting the reporter she was interviewing to remind her about the First Amendment.
Green wondered why the U.S. is “behind” European countries that regulate online speech, citing political propaganda and anti-vaccination articles as examples of online speech the U.S. isn’t doing enough to censor. New York Times reporter Cecilia Kang responded by repeatedly reminding Green the federal government can’t censor speech because of the First Amendment.
“The thorniest issue in the U.S. in terms of regulating internet companies is really about regulating speech, and the reason why that is, is because first of all we have in our law, in our Constitution, the First Amendment that protects speech from any sort of moderation or censorship from the government,” Kang said.
Kang noted that countries including the United Kingdom, Germany and India have severely curbed online speech, then reiterated the constraints the First Amendment places on U.S. lawmakers who would try to do the same thing. (RELATED: Germany’s New Hate Speech Law Has Already Triggered Investigations)
“The U.S. is in a position where they have to abide by, really our constitutional limits, and also a culture where speech is celebrated,” she said. “There’s a culture where the companies, as well as citizens really value the idea that they can speak freely on the internet. … Simply, the U.S. cannot regulate content on the internet in the way that other countries can, because of the First Amendment.”
Green was apparently unmoved by this straightforward response to her question, and asked the reporter why the U.S. can’t just take some of those speech laws and “Americanize” them. (RELATED: UK Proposes Prison Times For Offensive Online Posts)
“These are countries that protect speech,” she said. “These are countries where free speech is a value that is important to them, but they still and they don’t have a U.S. Constitution, but they still allow people to express themselves, and they have managed to hammer out some sort of stricter list of laws. So could the U.S. possibly use some of the other countries and what they have done as a framework and then kind of like Americanize it?”
Kang again emphasized the fact that U.S. law and culture makes curbing speech in this country extremely difficult, and also take the edge off demands for tech companies to self-police without government intervention. In addition to the First Amendment, she noted an additional law gives tech companies immunity from liability for content posted on their sites. One reason the law exists, she said, is to protect tech companies from a constant stream of lawsuits and law enforcement action against them that might result in those companies heavily policing speech on their platform.
“There’s a vast gray area, but on the two polls of things that are really preventing speech regulation is the First Amendment and also this liability that’s supposed to keep, that keeps the internet companies from being punished strongly for content that’s on their sites.”
The little-noticed segment is reminiscent of a 2016 press conference at the Obama White House, in which press secretary Josh Earnest repeatedly reminded the press corps that the First Amendment prevents the government from censoring speech.
To conclude the interview, Green’s cohost remarked, “Really fascinating stuff Cecilia.”