How to end Big Tech censorship of free speech
For the crime of posting content that doesn’t fit the woke liberal agenda, Big Tech flags, suppresses and outright bans users from its platforms.
Consider how these companies target the Babylon Bee, a conservative satire website. The headline “CNN Purchases Industrial-Sized Washing Machine to Spin News Before Publication” caught the attention of Facebook’s fact-checkers. Facebook attached a warning label to the article and threatened to reduce distribution and monetization if the Bee continued to post information disputed by Facebook’s fact-checkers. This was an attack on the Bee’s ability to run its business.
Facebook says its approach to “misinformation” is to address misleading claims that have the potential to cause harm. But who was in danger of being harmed here? In censoring comedy, Facebook isn’t protecting its community from harm, but rather protecting particular targets of jokes from criticism. The only harm in that context is to our right to speak (and joke) freely.
Twitter’s tolerance for satire is lower. Twitter completely silenced the Babylon Bee and is holding its account hostage until it deletes a tweet about a transgender public figure in the Biden administration, Dr. Rachel Levine. The tweet, which linked to a satirical story titled, “The Babylon Bee’s Man of the Year is Rachel Levine,” was a response to USA Today naming Dr. Levine as one of its “women of the year.” Twitter labeled the Bee’s post “hateful conduct” and is keeping its account locked until it admits wrongdoing and deletes the tweet.
Big Tech is also suppressing legitimate debates and information. Google, Facebook and Twitter suppressed information about the potential COVID-19 lab leak. Many of these policies were reversed only after Democrats, including President Joe Biden, began taking the theory seriously.
Big Tech abused its power again when it censored the credible Hunter Biden laptop story by the New York Post and locked The Post out of its account. It does all of this by hiding behind vague rules, automated email responses and arbitrary review periods. It isn’t a fair fight.
Big Tech must be held accountable. First, we propose narrowing Section 230 liability protections for Big Tech companies by removing ambiguity in the law — which they exploit to suppress and penalize constitutionally protected speech. Our proposal ensures Big Tech is no longer protected if it censors individuals or media outlets or removes factually correct content simply because it doesn’t fit its woke narrative.
Second, we propose requiring quarterly filings to the Federal Trade Commission to keep Big Tech transparent about content moderation. This will allow Congress, the FTC and Americans to know when and why these companies censor content to determine whether it’s justified. We’d also sunset Section 230 protections after five years, so Congress can reevaluate them if necessary and incentivize Big Tech to treat all content fairly or have their protections revoked.
Third, our proposal requires Big Tech to improve appeals processes for users to challenge moderation decisions and enables people to petition their state’s attorney general to bring legal action against Big Tech, enhancing users’ power to challenge censorship. Twitter would be required to notify a user, like the Babylon Bee, through direct communication before taking any censorship action. Big Tech would also be required to give users the option to challenge any censorship decisions with a real person — not a bot — to disincentivize Big Tech from completely automating its censorship process.
Big Tech platforms are the modern town square. It’s urgent we preserve free speech in these digital spaces. The Biden administration wants to censor Americans. It has admitted to flagging “problematic” content for Big Tech companies to censor and sought to establish a Disinformation Governance Board to monitor and censor Americans online. The government’s forcing, coercing or suggesting private companies censor people’s free speech is unconstitutional and an alarming affront to the First Amendment.
Free speech must be cherished and preserved. It’s time Big Tech companies uphold American values and become fair stewards of the speech they host.
Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers (WA) is the top Republican on the House Energy and Commerce Committee. Seth Dillon is CEO of The Babylon Bee. This column was co-authored with members of the House Republican Big Tech Task Force, which Rodgers leads.