The battle over who can violate free speech more with their bad content moderation ideas continues to wage on between the Right and the Left.
In Texas and Florida, we’ve seen state Republicans pass bills (that are thankfully tied up in court because they are so blatantly unconstitutional) that give the state government power to dictate best practices to social media companies—and punish them if they don’t cooperate.
But while these are clear and overt violations of the First Amendment (such policies violate the free speech rights of the owners of the companies as well as those of some users on the platforms), California just upped the ante with an even more egregious bill.
Known as Assembly Bill 2273, or the “Age-Appropriate Design Code Act,” this legislation forces all websites to track and store information on both children and adults. It too is now tied up in court after a free-market trade industry group for tech companies, NetChoice (where I am a Fellow) sued over it.
According to their lawsuit (NetChoice v. Bonta), “AB 2273 violates the First Amendment many times over: it compels and chills speech, infringes editorial rights, limits adults’ access to constitutional speech, and relies on undefined terms to grant California unchecked power to coerce moderation decisions the government prefers.”
The lawsuit also points out that AB 2273 disregards existing federal protections for children online, which are outlined in the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Rule (COPPA), and violates the Commerce Clause of the U.S. Constitution.
Great going, guys.
Per usual, the lawmakers claim they are doing this to pRotEcT cHiLdReN and dEfenD pRiVaCy, but these are trojan horses that have been trotted out so many times it’s hard to believe they’ve yet to be put out to pasture. Who is still falling for this kind of crud?
Instead, as is almost always the case, this bill is actually about control and side-stepping constitutional protections on free speech as well as the free market.
In a statement on the lawsuit, NetChoice Vice President and General Counsel Carl Szabo said, “AB 2733 isn’t actually focused on privacy; it’s focused on regulating online content. Following in the footsteps of Florida and Texas, California is trampling on the First Amendment to gain more control over speech online. We are here to stand for the Constitution and protect freedom of expression online.”
We’re honestly living in dark times. There are few true defenders of free speech to be found in either of the major political camps in the US. And what makes that even more frightening is that the US is one of the last holdouts on free speech—even in the Western world. Just recently at BASEDPolitics, we covered the story of a woman who was arrested in England for merely silently praying in the wrong spot. While that may seem like a far cry from where we are in this country, it’s a slippery slope.
You don’t have to like Big Tech companies to support their rights to free speech and to moderate content on their platforms as they choose. In fact, it is especially important that you stand solidly for free speech even when you don’t like those you are standing up for. We don’t lose civil liberties by failing to defend ourselves and our friends, we lose them by accepting infringements on these basic rights against people we dislike and allowing the precedent to be built over time.
No government actor, Republican or Democrat, federal or state, has any right whatsoever to tell private companies how to run their businesses or moderate speech on their platforms. You may not like the decisions individuals make in the marketplace of ideas, and that’s fine, you can take your business elsewhere.
But I promise you, you’ll like it a whole lot less if the government is running your website.
Hannah Cox is a fellow at NetChoice.