By Dan Kontos
I don’t like to have to start off a column with a headline like that, but this is serious.
Our national framework is under attack, and I cannot let this go by, or handle the topic with kid gloves. While many people around Portage County get it, all too many are quick to praise the loss of free speech that is descending on our nation.
Immediately following the congressional certification of the Electoral College votes on January 6, big-tech oligarchs unilaterally decided to quash the speech and opinions of those who dared to defy their unilaterally ordained politically acceptable points of view, and many Americans sadly cheered them on.
In the ensuing days, the social media accounts of a sitting President of the United States were summarily suspended for having the audacity of speaking up and speaking out. They claimed that his Washington D.C. speech at the “Save America” rally incited violence, which it clearly did not.
Don’t take anyone’s word for it, read it for yourself, in its entirety and in context. After that, other official accounts were likewise frozen, along with supporters of President Trump and many political critics of the newly minted President-Elect.
Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram were first to pounce, as thousands of accounts were permanently suspended for what National Public Radio described as an “ongoing effort to fight the spread of disinformation and political discord…” Disinformation? According to whom? And I hate to break it to you, but political speech is almost always controversial and sows some level of discord, by definition. That’s the very nature of politics in the arena of competing ideas. Now Congress is exploring systemic media censorship all in the name of controlling “misinformation.”
Are you okay with this?
These technology giants have been doing this for a while now, slowly dialing up the heat on the pot of political dissent with partisan warning labels and phony “fact-checking,” until the water came to a full boil in the last few weeks. Not only did these bloated media tyrants oppress their own platforms, but their perceived competition was also silenced.
The social media provider Parler saw both Google and Apple pull their app from their app stores, and on January 9, Amazon pulled the plug completely on Parler, who they were hosting on their servers, effectively shutting their competition down. Parler was a libertarian-leaning free-speech alternative to the legacy social platforms and was increasingly popular among conservatives and free speech advocates fleeing what they saw as overbearing censorship. In 2020, Parler became one of the top downloads on Google Play.
Just like that, the social media overlords Jeff Bezos, Mark Zuckerberg, and Jack Dorsey (all of whom received a grand total of exactly zero votes during the last presidential election) flexed their own technological muscle to substitute their reality for that of someone who received over 74 million uncontested votes—more than any other presidential candidate before that.
Draw your own conclusions about the legitimacy of the election results, but the truth is that a large segment of the population was just slapped in the face and told to go lie down by their dish. Their thoughts and beliefs no longer matter, and by extension, neither do they.
I’m sorry, but these actions are reprehensible and inexcusable. Dare I say, Unamerican? Yes, I think I shall.
But Dan, I thought conservatives like you are all for private companies to be able to do whatever they want? Just because you can do a thing, doesn’t mean that you should do a thing. There are principles and ethics that our nation was founded upon. I say (as long as I am still allowed) that this is wrong.
By the way, I didn’t hear a deafening hue and cry from the outraged social justice warriors when in 2012 a Colorado family bakery was forced to make a wedding cake in violation of their religious beliefs. Huh; a private company forced to involuntarily work by the state. That’s what socialist countries and fascist dictatorships do. If I failed to mention it, I abhor hypocrisy.
People who politically oppose President Trump were quick to support this selective censorship, including elected officials. Didn’t these public servants take an oath to support and defend the Constitution, including the First Amendment? Isn’t free speech a hallmark of a free society?
The concept of protecting speech isn’t to safeguard points of view that we agree with, it’s to protect speech that we reflexively disagree with and maybe wish wasn’t said. There was no incitement to riot or for violence, as I have shown you. I am sad that so many Americans, who value their own right to say whatever they want, should be so quick to rally to the cause of stifling that right for others in return for short term political gain.
The latest trend is to silence all opposition by canceling bank accounts, insurance policies, and other forms of commerce with political opponents. This is all done to American citizens who are exercising their lawful and constitutional rights. Where will this end? Fun fact: Did you realize that the Portage County Sheriff’s Office Facebook page had been suspended (without explanation) for several months now?
Before you dismiss my complaints as paid columnist hyperbole, I put the theory to the test. I have Facebook, Twitter, and Parler accounts. As I don’t use Twitter, and have never even tweeted from this account, I felt that it was safe to tap it as a test subject. I dispatched a tweet that was anything but inciteful of violence, and contained sentiments that any reasonable American should be allowed to have. It included a list of hashtags, including #MAGA, #Parler, and #HydroxicloriquinIsSafe. Bam, just like that, I’m suspended. No loss, Twitter is a vacuous sewer of hate and bile. I won’t miss it. Why is it still even a thing? I bet it won’t be for long.
What are the consequences of this unprecedented attack on free speech? Let’s start with the obvious, as Twitter’s stock fell double digits following this decision. President Trump was a yuuuge driver of clicks for these tech giants, and will undoubtedly hurt their bottom line (excuse the levity).
The blowback, and there will be blowback, will damage the brand names of these thuggish corporations. I always thought that liberals despised big-whatever: big-pharma, big-oil, big-tobacco, big-soda… I guess big-tech is okay, as long as they stomp on the other guy. Did I mention I loathe hypocrisy?
For those who follow these things, this decision will undoubtedly fuel the efforts to retool Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act. This is the provision in federal law that protects tech companies from liability for the posts that their users publish on their sites. In remarks delivered by former Attorney General William Barr, he said that “Section 230 has enabled platforms to absolve themselves completely of responsibility for policing their platforms, while blocking or removing third-party speech—including political speech—selectively, and with impunity.” Expect that to come under attack.
Finally, today it’s Trump-speech that is censored, but these liberty abhorring tyrants will never be satisfied. What will it be tomorrow? Will pro-abortion advocates pressure big tech to take down pro-life messages? Will big box stores call for the closing of small business sites that encourage people to shop in-person in the name of COVID-19 precautions? Will online gun sales be targeted? Will climate change advocates be silenced? What about Girl Scouts, adult web sites, soy milk, hunting and fishing pages, off-track betting, Christmas, liquor sales, gourmet chocolate sales, and cow flatulence? Sound crazy? So does the assault on free speech, and a fundamental attack on a bedrock Constitutional principle.
Remember that all of this is going on while Iran’s Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei, who regularly calls for the death of opponents as well as entire nations, still has an active account. Let’s not forget that the Chinese Communist Party, the same one who throws their own citizens in concentration camps and “disappears” political opponents, has several active Twitter accounts. What about those pro-Nazi Twitter accounts? The infamous pro-pedophilia group known as NAMBLA (North American Man-Boy Love Association) Facebook page anyone? I think I am starting to feel ill.
I will not be silenced, and I hope you won’t be either—whether we agree or not. Tyrants are not censored; they do the censoring. So, let’s make a plan to meet here again next time and exercise our First Amendment rights. Until then, God bless.
Dan Kontos is a paid columnist for the Metro Wire. He chooses his own topics and his opinions do not necessarily represent the staff of the Metro Wire. He lives with his family in Whiting.