The ACLU hates free speech
Trump has threatened social media platforms. The ACLU says those platforms should cave.
On twitter, the ACLU enthusiastically endorsed Meta’s decision to put Trump back on the platform. “This is the right call,” they burbled happily. “Like it or not, President Trump is one of the country’s leading political figures and the public has a strong interest in hearing his speech.”
The ACLU has taken this position before; they were all in a fluster about twitter dumping Trump after he used the platform to incite an insurrection. (I wrote about that here.)
Which raises the question—wtf? What are you even talking about, ACLU? What is the free speech principle behind, “Media platforms have to let powerful and famous people use their resources no matter how they use those resources. It says it in the first amendment!” (furrow brow libertarianishly)
Spoiler: there is no free speech principle! On the contrary, the ACLU is putting forth a principle that is antithetical to free speech. They are arguing against the spirit of the First Amendment, and possibly even against the letter.
The problem here I think is that the ACLU is viewing private companies like twitter and Facebook as public goods, or public squares.
This is, bluntly, stupid. Facebook is not a public square, where people get up on soap boxes to harangue to all and sundry. It’s a media company, like the New York Times or Fox News. It promotes some news, buries others stories at the proverbial back of the paper, and refuses to print some things altogether, in accordance with its editorial policy/terms of service. Facebook doesn’t want to print adult content (because it’s run by terrified asshole prudes) and it doesn’t want to print credible death threats (because it has some vague sense of decency.)
In short, it’s got an editorial policy. The editorial policy is not a violation of free speech. The government interfering with that policy, though (by, for example, passing draconian laws limiting adult content online) is.
The ACLU, to its credit, has spoken against those government restrictions on adult content. But when it comes to Trump, it gets confused and starts blathering that it’s somehow free speechy for a platform to defer to power by letting famous people on the platform even if they violate its editorial policy.
More, the ACLU misses the real power dynamics here. Why is Meta rushing to replatform Trump? Is it because there’s a public interest in Trump’s words (which people can read on lots of other platforms)? Or is it because they’re scared of him?
When he was deplatformed from twitter as president, Trump threatened to regulate or shut down social media platforms that defied him. The ACLU may not remember that, but I doubt Mark Zuckerberg has forgotten.
The ACLU says Meta’s decision is in the public interest. But it’s more likely that Meta was thinking about its own interest. Trump may be president again. If he becomes president without Meta, he may come after the company. It’s safer, therefore, to let him use the platform as he will, even if he violates the TOS. Even if he uses the platform to make himself president by lying to the public.
The ACLU thinks an important Nazi is being prevented from marching in Skokie. But what’s much more likely happening is that the New York Times is giving an important Nazi a weekly op-ed column to prevent that Nazi from shutting them down once he gets into power.
Of course, I don’t know the exact content of Meta’s internal deliberations. Neither does the ACLU. But when media rushes to lick the boots of powerful figures who have promised to destroy said media if said boots aren’t licked—it raises some questions.
And yet, instead of warning of the dangers of government threats to media, and asking whether Meta has been influenced by said threats, the ACLU—rushed to also lick the fascist boots.
Why? Well, part of the reason is, again, that the ACLU is always looking for Nazis it can help march through Skokie. Defending fascists has become part of the ACLU’s brand and history. Championing Nazi speech gets them in the news, and has become core to their identity. In the past, they’ve struggled to understand that white supremacy isn’t some sort of marginal ideology, but is in fact the core belief of those in power. They are still struggling.
And so, the leading free speech org in the country has thrown its whole weight behind the idea that free speech is served when large platforms bow to explicit threats from those in power. Maybe they’ll find their brains and pull them out of their asses if Trump gets back into office and uses government resources to throw journalists who criticize him in jail. If so, it will be too late.
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