It became necessary to govern free speech to save it

29 May 2020 by Steve Blum
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“It became necessary to destroy the town to save it”.

Unidentified U.S. army major to Associated Press reporter Peter Arnett, Bến Tre, Republic of South Vietnam, 7 February 1968.

The freedom to express and debate ideas is the foundation for all of our rights as a free people…It is the policy of the United States to foster clear ground rules promoting free and open debate on the internet. Prominent among the ground rules governing that debate is the immunity from liability created by section 230(c) of the Communications Decency Act.

U.S president Donald Trump, executive order signed 28 May 2020, Washington, D.C.

It’s tempting to dismiss yesterday’s executive order as just another tantrum that’ll be squashed by a federal judge almost as quickly as it’ll be forgotten. But there’s real danger in it, even if Trump is no longer president by this time next year. He’s asking the Federal Communications Commission to decide who is worthy of free speech and free press rights on the Internet, and who is not. That’s dangerous.

The impulse to perceive bias when a newspaper or broadcaster or online platform fails to fully appreciate the words and actions of self proclaimed political geniuses is as prevalent on the left as it is on the right. Accusations of bias are levelled at technology companies on a daily basis, from across the political spectrum. As are demands that government do something about it.

Giving any government agency leeway to think it’s responsible for ferreting out bias among public speakers or publishers – of any medium – is perilous enough under any circumstances, but it is catastrophic when the agency involved is as structurally political and as enmeshed in the basic infrastructure of our economy and polity as the FCC.

If you think that’s over the top, I suggest you take a look at what’s going in Hong Kong right now.