Two authors at The Atlantic have sided with the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) over the United States government on free speech. The only question, given that one of them is a professor at Harvard, is whether they’re colluding directly with China like Charles Lieber, or whether it’s merely convergent evolution. The title of the article is, “Internet Speech Will Never Go Back to Normal. In the debate over freedom versus control of the global network, China was largely correct, and the U.S. was wrong.” That should offend American sensibilities enough never to read The Atlantic again. Digging in, however, leaves the reader with the impression that communist infiltration on campus is far more prevalent than anyone wants to believe.
The two professors, Jack Goldsmith of Harvard Law, and Andrew Keane Woods of Arizona Law, begin their article with this bold pronouncement:
COVID-19 has emboldened American tech platforms to emerge from their defensive crouch. Before the pandemic, they were targets of public outrage over life under their dominion. Today, the platforms are proudly collaborating with one another, and following government guidance, to censor harmful information related to the coronavirus. And they are using their prodigious data-collection capacities, in coordination with federal and state governments, to improve contact tracing, quarantine enforcement, and other health measures.
It just goes downhill from there. They use their digital space to praise their new information overlords in a shameless overture:
But the “extraordinary” measures we are seeing are not all that extraordinary. Powerful forces were pushing toward greater censorship and surveillance of digital networks long before the coronavirus jumped out of the wet markets in Wuhan, China, and they will continue to do so once the crisis passes. The practices that American tech platforms have undertaken during the pandemic represent not a break from prior developments, but an acceleration of them.
As surprising as it may sound, digital surveillance and speech control in the United States already show many similarities to what one finds in authoritarian states such as China. Constitutional and cultural differences mean that the private sector, rather than the federal and state governments, currently takes the lead in these practices, which further values and address threats different from those in China. But the trend toward greater surveillance and speech control here, and toward the growing involvement of government, is undeniable and likely inexorable.
So you see, the differences between CCP control and the private sector are little more than cultural.
“In the great debate of the past two decades about freedom versus control of the network, China was largely right and the United States was largely wrong.”
Of course, as evidence, the authors cite Russia’s “interference” in the 2016 elections that people can’t handle unrestrained access to information. They laud Big Tech for appealing to authority, and limiting inauthentic behavior:
After the 2016 election debacle, for example, the tech platforms took aggressive but still imperfect steps to fend off foreign adversaries. YouTube has an aggressive policy of removing what it deems to be deceptive practices and foreign-influence operations related to elections. It also makes judgments about and gives priority to what it calls “authoritative voices.” Facebook has deployed a multipronged strategy that includes removing fake accounts and eliminating or demoting “inauthentic behavior.” Twitter has a similar censorship policy aimed at “platform manipulation originating from bad-faith actors located in countries outside of the US.” These platforms have engaged in “strategic collaboration” with the federal government, including by sharing information, to fight foreign electoral interference.
That’s not all. They actually praise Big Tech for cooperating with authoritarian regimes in places like Russia and China. It just drips with anti-American bias. Of course, social media firms choosing to limit speech that questions data coming out of the COVID-19 crisis is no big deal, in this environment. “Against this background, the tech firms’ downgrading and outright censorship of speech related to COVID-19 are not large steps,” they write. Hey, we’re already halfway to censorship, what’s the big whoop?
The argument then devolves into the same old things we hear about the Constitution in modern times. We’ve never seen problems this big before. The Founders never could have envisioned a pandemic. Big tech is bigger than anything in the Constitution. “[W]hen the crisis is gone, there is no unregulated ‘normal’ to return to,” the distinguished scholars write. “We live—and for several years, we have been living—in a world of serious and growing harms resulting from digital speech.” They seem positively giddy with excitement while stating, very matter-of-factly, “The general trend toward more speech control will not abate.”
They employ circular reasoning to justify all this and give ever more power to government. Government knows best, of course. Police agencies and state governments and federal investigators and everyone in between already have these powers. We are powerless to stop their advance and their expansion. So it must be a good idea. Besides, the Russians and Chinese have oppressive governments with all the power, and they have our worst interests in mind, so we should give all the power to our federal government.
They go on to conflate private business with governmental authority. The details get boring as they try to impress the reader with their qualifications and overly long paragraphs. Read it if you wish, but the upshot is this:
The First and Fourth Amendments as currently interpreted, and the American aversion to excessive government-private-sector collaboration, have stood as barriers to greater government involvement. Americans’ understanding of these laws, and the cultural norms they spawned, will be tested as the social costs of a relatively open internet multiply.
Don’t worry about the Constitution. Listen to your fear. Trust your government to keep you safe. It’s only a little freedom you’re giving up. After all, the government loves you.
Jeff Reynolds is the author of the book, “Behind the Curtain: Inside the Network of Progressive Billionaires and Their Campaign to Undermine Democracy,” available now at www.WhoOwnsTheDems.com. Jeff hosts a podcast at anchor.fm/BehindTheCurtain. You can follow him on Twitter @ChargerJeff.
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