Let’s get one thing straight. The government is the only entity that has the ability to violate your right to free speech.
And in recent years, the government has been abusing the right with reckless abandon. From disinformation boards, to investigating US citizens and labeling them as domestic terrorists for protesting at schools, to pressuring social media platforms to censor information on COVID-19, the powers that be (which are currently Democratic) have sought to suppress free speech from every angle.
But in response, Republicans have mostly tried to beat them at their own game instead of actually working to stand up for free speech. Conservatives in both Florida and Texas passed unconstitutional laws also seeking to force social media companies to moderate content according to their standards. On top of that, many have worked to dismantle excellent free speech protections like Section 230 as well.
Finally, though, we’re seeing a group on the Right rise up and take the proper measures needed to stand up for free speech in a principled manner. Recently, a group of congressmen filed HR 8752, the Protecting Speech from Government Interference Act. The legislation reaffirms what the First Amendment (should) already make evident: politicians, bureaucrats, and other government officials are prohibited from using their authority or influence to promote or pressure censorship of information on social media.
But aside from simply reiterating what a First Amendment violation is, the law takes it a step further and actually attaches penalties for those who violate the free speech rights of Americans. Such disciplinary actions could include removal, reduction in pay, monetary civil penalties, and debarment from federal employment.
“House Energy and Commerce Republicans have repeatedly condemned President Biden’s efforts to institutionalize censorship and coordinate with Big Tech to silence Americans. Yet his administration continues to pressure private companies to censor and manipulate the truth online. Big Tech platforms have become the modern town square, and any effort to erase people from these digital spaces simply for not adhering to the woke liberal agenda is unconstitutional. I am pleased to join my colleagues, Reps. Comer and Jordan, on legislation to protect Americans’ first amendment rights from government censorship,” said Energy and Commerce Committee Republican Leader Rodgers.
Oversight Committee Ranking Member Comer said, “From COVID-19 to Hunter Biden, Biden Administration officials are quick to label facts that don’t fit their narrative as disinformation and then pressure social media companies to suppress content on their platforms. This threatens Americans’ First Amendment rights. To protect freedom of speech, our bill stops the Swamp from pressuring social media companies to silence ordinary Americans.”
Given the loopholes in the law government officials have currently been taking to censor people online, this kind of proposal is absolutely necessary.
Given reporting from The Intercept in recent weeks, we’ve learned even more about the extent to which the government is working with Big Tech companies to censor Americans online. But the question becomes, to what extent are Big Tech companies doing this of their own volition (which would be legal) or are they doing it because the government is hanging the threat of antitrust, regulations, and other penalties over their head if they do not do it.
This is often how it works. The government doesn’t actually have to violate the Constitution to get what it wants. Instead it threatens to break-up companies that don’t comply, and since this pressure happens behind closed doors, there’s no way to prove it, to sue over it, or to pass laws banning the activities. And at the end of it all, we get less and less of a free market, and less and less individual liberty.
This proposal would be an excellent step in the right direction. And we should hope to see more politicians rising up to act as a check and balance against government and the usurpation of power versus those using bad behavior by the other team as an excuse to get in the mud with them.
Hannah Cox is a fellow at NetChoice.