How Big Tech's Partnership With One Leftist Group Endangers America's Legacy of Free Speech
While Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh and his accuser Christine Blasey Ford dominated the news on Thursday, the House of Representatives held a hearing on threats to free speech on social media. A lawyer at a powerhouse law firm that has won 9 Supreme Court cases in the last seven years explained how one leftist group endangers America's legacy of free speech, by fighting "hate speech" on the Internet.
"Our goal is to create a society where we can engage in civil discourse, we can have very sharp disagreements about core issues and still live together peacefully," Jeremy Tedesco, senior counsel at Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF) told PJ Media after the hearing. "That's one of the great distinctions of American society, and we risk losing it if we go down this line of labeling mainstream conservative and Christian speech 'hate speech.'"
"I think one of the greatest threats to intellectual freedom is the whole concept of 'hate speech,'" the lawyer explained. He warned that "Internet companies are at the front end of reaching people in our culture, because they interact with so many people in our country every day."
Yet, big tech companies are embracing a European-style understanding of "hate speech" that contradicts America's proud tradition of defending free speech under the First Amendment. Due to big tech, "it's not going to be long before European hate speech policies come to our shores."
One group in particular is responsible for much of this cultural push — the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC). In his testimony before Congress, Tedesco noted that YouTube allows the SPLC to police users' video content, Twitter works with the SPLC as one of its "safety" partners, and Facebook acts on the SPLC's advice to identify "hate speech."
The SPLC earned its reputation as a civil rights watchdog by taking the Ku Klux Klan to court, but in recent decades it has used that reputation to smear mainstream conservative and Christian organizations as "hate groups," listing them along with the KKK.
In 2012, a terrorist used the SPLC's "hate map" to target the Family Research Council (FRC). As for animus against the organizations on its "hate group" list, former SPLC spokesman declared that "our aim in life is to destroy these groups completely." The SPLC had to make an embarrassing apology — and a hefty $3.375 million payment — to Muslim reformer Maajid Nawaz after branding him an "anti-Islamic extremist." This inspired roughly sixty groups to consider bringing legal action against the SPLC.
Corporate America has also relied on the SPLC's "hate group" list to exile conservatives. Vanco Payments stopped working with the Catholic pro-family nonprofit the Ruth Institute, due to the SPLC list. PayPal banned JihadWatch for the same reason. Patreon also de-platformed JihadWatch, and the crowdfunding site GoFundMe effectively stole thousands from its founder, Robert Spencer.
Amazon has kicked charities out of its Amazon Smile donation program due to the SPLC "hate group" list. The Christian organization D. James Kennedy Ministries (DJKM) brought a lawsuit after Amazon booted it from Amazon Smile, and this year Alliance Defending Freedom was also removed.
"In this current cultural climate, hate speech policies are almost exclusively used to regulate religious conservative speech," Tedesco, the ADF lawyer, argued.
He insisted that Americans should oppose the rise of "hate speech" restrictions, no matter which ideology they target, however. "They are going to be enforced on subjective whims. We may cheer that somebody who has an opinion we don't like gets shut down, but that can easily become us," Tedesco said.
The lawyer mentioned the exiling of InfoWars founder Alex Jones as particularly troubling.
"Alex Jones was — through what appeared to be a coordinated effort on behalf of Silicon Valley — completely separated from every platform other than Twitter, and suspended there as well," Tedesco told PJ Media. "That was a very concerning episode that these tech giants would use hate speech policies in a coordinated way to silence someone in our society."
"It's very difficult to have conversations in our society when the first thing you say about somebody is call them a name or label them a hater," the lawyer warned. "That shuts down debate and creates enmity for the people you label that way."
While Tedesco testified against the SPLC and urged social media companies to distance themselves from the left-wing group, he expressed optimism that Amazon may distance itself from the smear factory. ADF has met with Amazon on multiple occasions, urging them to reconsider its partnership with the SPLC.
"They're still working on trying to come up with a replacement system," Tedesco told PJ Media. "I'm still cautiously optimistic that Amazon is going to do the right thing, publicly walk away from its partnership with the Southern Poverty Law Center and come up with a system that doesn't treat ideological disagreements like hate."
As for the SPLC, the ADF lawyer suggested that it may be driven more by fundraising than animus against conservatives and Christians. "I think that what drives them is making money, and they know that the progressives they typically raise the most money from respond well to immigration issues, LGBT issues, and those kinds of things."
That said, big tech companies cannot pretend to be neutral and partner with the SPLC.
"Silicon Valley cannot continue to say 'We run natural platforms' and work with this biased and discredited left-wing organization," Tedesco argued. They must reconsider.
Follow the author of this article on Twitter at @Tyler2ONeil.