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Monday, August 2, 2021

Trump vs. Big Censor: Free speech is worth rescuing

Ancient Greek mythology tells that Heracles, son of Zeus, passes his final heroic test when he collars Cerberus, the ferocious three-headed hound of Hades. No figure of fable, Donald Trump has undertaken a modern task equally daunting. The former president is attempting to bring to heel the triple-trouble social-media monster Facebook, Twitter and Google. It’s a heroic and dangerous undertaking worthy of applause.

In his first press conference since leaving office, Mr. Trump announced Wednesday he is leading class-action lawsuits to be filed in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Florida against the three megacorporations and their respective CEOs, Mark Zuckerberg, Jack Dorsey and Sundar Pichai.

The firms have banned certain speech – mostly conservative — from their platforms. The former president says, in doing so, they trample on the First Amendment right to free expression. Fair-minded Americans would have to agree.

Citizens are free to fold, spindle or mutilate the U.S. Constitution in private, of course, but these tech giants with global reach effectively own the public square. In the words of the complaint, “Defendant Facebook’s status thus rises beyond that of a private company to that of a state actor. As such, Defendant is constrained by the First Amendment right to free speech in the censorship decisions it makes regarding its Users.”

Under Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act of 1996, Facebook, Twitter and Google have been exempted from liability that publishers face for objectionable content. And crucially, the companies have been free to define “decency” on their own terms.

Consequently, Big Tech has become Big Censor. Joining the left-wing never-Trump crusade. “Fact-checkers” were recruited to slap warning labels on his steady stream of electronic missives. Trump’s efforts to set the record straight regarding fatuous “Russian collusion” charges were branded as “unproven conspiracy theories,” as were his attempts to expose then-opponent Joe Biden’s dodgy business with Ukraine.

But it was the lockstep ban of Mr. Trump and fellow Americans who clumsily challenged the blundersome 2020 election that has exposed the socials for what they have become: “the de facto censorship arm of the U.S. government,” in the words of the Donald. Thousands of other Americans have been similarly shadow-banned, demonetized and demonized when their expressions have gone against the grain preferred by the censors.

Disturbingly, faceless speech enforcers have muzzled even highly qualified medical professionals who challenge the wisdom of government COVID-19 diktats. Facebook, for one, has recently warned its users not to share a recent study published by the highly respected Journal of the American Medical Association Pediatrics that found face masks were forcing schoolchildren to inhale dangerously elevated levels of carbon dioxide. Mask orthodoxy must not be challenged.

Attempting to tame the censorship of the social media Cerberus is a hellacious but worthy task. As Mr. Trump says, “If they can do it to me, they can do it to anyone.”

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