The mob that stormed the Capitol last week was a grave threat to our democracy but just as serious were actions taken by social media companies days later when Twitter shut down President Trump’s accounts and Google and Amazon ousted Parler, a site favored by millions of conservatives.
Big tech, which is run by the left, is robbing Americans of their access to a free marketplace of ideas.
If social media can silence the president of the United States, think what they’ll do to you.
The nation’s founders wrote the First Amendment, to guarantee us freedom of speech and association and protect us from government censorship. They had no way of anticipating that tech companies would grow more powerful than governments, and have the monopolistic ability to suppress or cancel political viewpoints.
What’s the solution? So far the focus has been on repealing Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act, which protects the tech giants from being sued for what they post, based on the fiction that they are merely unbiased platforms. Republicans want their liability removed, but that may incentivize them to limit content even more, just as many Democrats want.
The better approach is to treat these tech platforms as public utilities, just like water, electric, phone and gas companies and regulate them as utilities. They’re monopolies, and they provide essential services to a dependent public.
Public utilities cannot withhold services from some customers based on their political views. When you open an account with Optimum or AT&T, they don’t question you about your political views.
Treating social media platforms as public utilities is not a new idea. President Trump proposed a similar approach last July. But with Democrats in control of Congress and the White House, it’s unlikely to happen any time soon.
Help is more likely to come from the Supreme Court when a litigant challenges being censored by a tech giant. The Justices are poised to protect access to social media as a fundamental right.
In 2017, the high court struck down a North Carolina law that barred registered sex offenders from using Facebook, Twitter and similar tech platforms.
The Justices unanimously ruled that the North Carolina law deprived sex offenders of right to find out what members of their government are saying and doing. Kagan called social media “a crucially important channel of political communication.”
If sex offenders are guaranteed access to social media, how can conservatives be blocked?
Expect the Justices to broaden the First Amendment to limit tech abuses. Justice Kennedy warned in the North Carolina case that the rapid evolution of new technologies will make today’s legal parameters “obsolete” tomorrow.
The Constitution bars the government from limiting what we see and hear, so why should five tech companies that no one elected have that power?
Betsy McCaughey is a former Lt. Governor of New York State.
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