Internet King Wants Limits on Speech

Internet King Wants Limits on Speech

Internet King Wants Limits on Speech

Big Internet is vying to become Big Brother, asking for speech codes. A tech titan is asking governments to restrict your speech. Because words hurt. Most counties have some level of speech restrictions codified into their laws. “Hate Speech” penalties are broadly defined, some include jail time consequences. The USA can thank the foresight of the Founding Fathers (and Mothers) for our First Amendment. But the ever expanding influence of globalization is jeopardizing our right to free speech. The First Amendment clearly states “Congress shall make no law…abridging freedom of speech.”  Internet power players like the idea of circumventing it and creating a third party governing body to restrict speech.

Sticks and Stones

May break my bones, but words will never hurt me. I drilled this into my head the summer of 7th grade. Growing up with 4 brothers I thought petty insults couldn’t hurt. Until a friend lashed out with some harsh words and I felt their sting. It hurt, and I cried some tears. A couple decades out of 7th grade I carry neither wounds nor a recollection of what made it so bad. The simple lesson; get over it. Words have only the power I give them.

Words are powerless strings of letters. The most vile and instigative words are immobile until given power by the person who hears them. The simple act of ignoring words removes their influence. “Mein Kampf”, “The Federalist Papers”, “The Bill of Rights” are equally capable of inciting action as they are useful for lining a birdcage. Their purpose defined by the needs of the user. A person inclined to a belief may be inspired to action, but most people agree that words without action are meaningless. For every “inspirational” use of words there are countless examples of “bloviated”, “insipid”, and “uninspiring.”

Like beauty in the eyes of the beholder, speech is subjective to the listener. Unless the speaker is in Germany. Then speech deemed offensive/hateful can land you a police raid.

Pretentious Parenting of the Internet

Now, Mother-Zucker is proposing third party censorship in lieu of personal accountability (responsibility). His March WaPo editorial states,

One idea is for third-party bodies to set standards governing the distribution of harmful content and to measure companies against those standards. Regulation could set baselines for what’s prohibited and require companies to build systems for keeping harmful content to a bare minimum.”

A third party will determine what is acceptable speech on the platforms used across the world wide web?! As a private business owner, Mr. Zuckerberg has every right to set standards within his business. Users don’t have to agree, and are free to use other methods of communication. Despite Facebook’s easy interface and monolithic presence in social media, we do have alternatives. For now. The platforms are not as user friendly, but they are an alternative. Establishing a governing regulatory body will set a standard that all platforms must follow. This removes any alternatives to the censored platforms.

Sorry, Mother-Zucker, but you don’t have the right to make that decision for the entirety of the internet.

The CATO institute highlights alternative platforms in the twitter link:


Who Makes the Rules?

The fact Momma Zuck proposes an unelected regulatory body to decide what constitutes “harmful content” is troubling. The UN’s Human Rights Council is filled with examples of globalized politics overriding good policy. China, the country with the world’s largest population, has a strong position in the future Speech Police commission. Their history of suppressing speech is chilling. But access to their market share of data gives them unparalleled leverage over standards and policy. A country with tightly controlled internet access (The Great Firewall of China) may eventually be a party to set speech policy for the global internet.

Comprised of democratically elected governments, the EU is an obvious choice. But “Freedom of Speech” in the EU is at odds with US definition. Governments in the EU force private companies to control individual speech. Harvard Law professor Noah Feldman writes a beautiful summary in Bloomberg,

The underlying philosophical difference here is about the right of the individual to self-expression. Americans value that classic liberal right very highly — so highly that we tolerate speech that might make others less equal. Europeans value the democratic collective and the capacity of all citizens to participate fully in it — so much that they are willing to limit individual rights.”

A Self Serving Stance

When the internet companies fail to restrict and remove content that violates the EU’s subjectively defined “hate speech”, they face fines. It is no wonder that their self interest in cashflow overrides their concerns about freedom of speech. Of course Tech Titans want a third party to establish guidelines. It takes them off the financial hook for not enforcing a hodgepodge of individually set restrictions. Compliance is easy when the guidelines are established. But the problem arises in setting where those guidelines fall on the line of freedom. Some civil rights groups also raised concerns.

 “It is extremely difficult to define ‘harmful content,’ much less implement standards consistently and fairly for billions of users, across the entire spectrum of contemporary thought and belief,” wrote Corynne McSherry and Gennie Gebhart of the Electronic Frontier Foundation”

Will Americans tolerate a Chinese approach and embrace total government control of the internet? Will Americans embrace an EU approach, where loosely defined regulations can result in a police raid? I’d like to think that every American recoils at anything beyond the most basic of restrictions on speech.

A Commissioner on the FCC agrees about passing the buck in the interest of self-preservation,


Defining Where Speech is Limited

Thankfully our government is divided into three branches, affording checks and balances. When everyone does their assigned job, it’s a formula for near perfection. Despite legislative attempts to override the First Amendment, the judiciary has prevailed to keep it mostly free. The few limitations on speech are as follows,

  • To incite actions that would harm others (e.g., “[S]hout[ing] ‘fire’ in a crowded theater.”). Schenck v. United States, 249 U.S. 47 (1919).
  • To make or distribute obscene materials. Roth v. United States, 354 U.S. 476 (1957).
  • To burn draft cards as an anti-war protest. United States v. O’Brien, 391 U.S. 367 (1968).
  • To permit students to print articles in a school newspaper over the objections of the school administration. Hazelwood School District v. Kuhlmeier, 484 U.S. 260 (1988).
  • Of students to make an obscene speech at a school-sponsored event. Bethel School District #43 v. Fraser, 478 U.S. 675 (1986).
  • Of students to advocate illegal drug use at a school-sponsored event. Morse v. Frederick, __ U.S. __ (2007).

And Whom is Responsible

Responsibility lies with the person committing the act. I tell my 14 year old son that he is “free to say what he likes, but not free from the consequences of his words.” In our house it can be a bar of soap to wash out those bad words, or it may be taking a minute to consider how his speech reflects upon him (and our family). One thing is certain, I don’t punish my 10 year old when her brother says inappropriate things.

Ice-T isn’t responsible for violence against the police. Carrie Underwood isn’t responsible for a bad ex-boyfriend getting his truck smashed to bits. Their music labels are not liable for providing a platform for their songs. My 14 year old isn’t at fault when his 12 year old sister punches him because he “said something I didn’t like.” Each person is responsible only to the extent that their words reflect on them. They are not responsible for the acts of others.

Yet, governments are holding private business responsible for the speech of the user. Momma Zuck sees it as an opportunity to streamline his operating procedures, restrict unfavorable (yet ill-defined) speech by the user, and reduce financial exposure in fines. From a business standpoint it is a win:win. For those who embrace freedom of speech, it is a chilling thought that the First Amendment would take a backseat to anything.

Why We Miss Men Like Carlin

It’s obvious that the timelessness of George Carlin is today in short supply. It’s also George Carlin, and there is redundancy in stating this video is “Not Suitable For Work.” It is one of my favorite skits, and makes perfect sense when trying to define what is acceptable in defining any sort of speech.


Featured Image: Pixabay License: Free


Written by

"CC" to her friends. Recent escapee from Northern VA to the Great State of Texas. I'm a Pro-LIfe, Pro-Gun, Libertarian type... There is very little that fresh lime juice and good tequila can't fix.

  • GWB says:

    require companies to build systems for keeping harmful content to a bare minimum (emphasis added)
    Note they don’t want to build laws or whatnot. They want to build systems that will do this. Talk about evading personal responsibility! This is exactly the crap that gets almost every SF dystopia into trouble with its AI – trying to pass of responsibility to the computer to avoid those gosh-darn human mistakes! Have these tech guys never read any science fiction?!? Or, do they just believe that they are so much better than every other human that they won’t make those mistakes?
    Silicon Valley, thy name is Hubris!

  • GWB says:

    Users don’t have to agree, and are free to use other methods of communication.
    Assuming there are other methods of that form of communication. (Yeah, you get to that.)

    they face fines
    Which is why I would never bother to have a server or any other piece of real property in any other country but America if I ran an internet business or platform. Tell all the other autocrats to go to hell.

    Will Americans tolerate a Chinese approach
    Will Americans embrace an EU approach
    Some certainly already have.

    The few limitations on speech are as follows
    Some of those aren’t even really limitations on the speech, so much as identifying that whomever owns the platform gets to set the rules. (If the draft card was actually addressed as a valid limitation, I’d recoil. It should be a matter of destruction of gov’t property and nothing else.)

    Ice-T isn’t responsible for violence against the police.
    There’s a difference between morally responsible and legally responsible. I would agree they are not legally responsible. The pushing off of moral responsibility because there isn’t legal responsibility is one of the current problems within our society. (“Those who don’t govern themselves will be governed by others.”)

  • DC says:

    “84% of academics believe problems raised in 1984 can be fixed with solutions from Animal Farm”
    Courtesy of the comrades at The People’s Cube.

  • John M Casteel says:

    Zuckerberg may be an electronic genius but he is a social moron. I’m with Glenn Reynolds (Instapundit): Trump should go all Teddy Roosevelt on the social media giants and break them up!J

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