Both sides of the political spectrum seem to misunderstand the damage online censorship does to the First Amendment.
After Senator Josh Hawley (R-MO) announced a tech free speech bill on June 19 that would address the problem of ideological censorship online, mass panic ensued on the left and even with some on the right. Members of the media accused Hawley of enabling big government to throttle innocent individuals online. One decided that he was enabling “literal Nazis” in his bill.
The bill would require Big Tech companies, or “interactive service providers” (with more than 30 million monthly users) to undergo bi-annual audits in order to maintain their status as neutral platforms.
In a piece by liberal tech site Gizmodo, Senior Reporter Bryan Menegus called it a “remarkably bad bill,” saying that it would threaten publishers like Gizmodo should someone post a bad comment in one of its articles. He laughably associated a publisher with a social media platform. Under existing laws, Gizmodo, as a member of the media, can still be sued for libelous content. Hawley’s bill is not designed to impact that in any way, shape or form.
After calling Hawley “a dumbass with bad ideas,” Menegus admitted that “tech platforms do have outsized power,” but denied that they were engaging in any ideological censorship.
Liberal Slate echoed the same ideas, with stronger condemnation. The bill was referred to as “probably unconstitutional and undeniably inane, a chillingly illiberal solution to an imagined problem.” Democrats and liberals are in complete denial that any sort of censorship exists online, claiming that all conservatives’ complaints are unfounded.
In fact, ThinkProgress columnist Ian Milhiser seems to prefer the current censorship status, saying, “Senator Josh Hawley is looking out for literal Nazis.”
Never-Trumpers chimed in as well, calling the bill “Terrible, Horrible, No-Good, Very Bad,” at Bulwark. (Children’s books are not proof of quality, unfortunately.) Bulwark was most upset at the “mindset behind” the bill, because it relied on “mammoth expansions of federal and executive power to address any momentary political problem.” Begrudgingly, Bulwark hinted that Hawley might actually be “right,” just not at the moment.
Reason Associate Editor Elizabeth Nolan Brown was also upset at the bill, because it would “dismantle” a system that allowed users and private companies to be “outside the easy grasp of a centralized government force.”
Interestingly, the free speech platform Gab compared Hawley’s bill to fascism. The company tweeted at Hawley, saying, “would this not cement Big Tech monopoly status? Do you expect startup competitors like us to pay for these audits?” Hawley responded, “No, I do not. Startups and medium-sized companies are specifically exempted. But feel free to actually read the proposal.”
But why read the proposal when you can simply jump to conclusions?