On the harmful myth of “hands-off” being “free speech”

Right-wingers have been claiming the mantle of, “free speech”, lately. One example is if, as a private censorial entity, you want to purchase a “free speech”, internet server, your best bet right now is a right-wing VPS/server business. This is simply a fact. So the right-wing have accepted the role of being “free speech” defenders. I’m skeptical of framing these, “brave protectors of private entitites”, as, “free-speech”, because of the inherent limitations of free speech outside of public services protected by a democratically elected government.

One would think if a private entity opened a site with, “hands off do whatever you want”, ideals, then it would encapsulate the meaning that “free speech” had during the framing of the First Amendment in the US. This is not true.

Free speech is defined in the American constitution as the government taking a, “hands-off”, approach to speech, but.… this was written when the pillars of speech in society were fair avenues of speech like government owned, physical, public college campuses, literal soapboxes in a government owned, public park, or pamphleteers on public roads. The first amendment was written before electronic communication. If you take a “hands off approach” to speech IRL, like at a government run college campus, everyone gets their time, because one college speaker speaks at 1pm, another at 2pm etc, all in the same physical venue!, that’s right, everyone gets the same platform! Or in a park, your access to certain soapboxes are not constrained or even filtered, there are no journalist, corporate, or search engine gatekeepers.

Electronic mass media doesn’t work like IRL free speech, and requires state intervention to have any semblance of free speech, if free speech is what people want…
This is because every pillar of public discourse on the internet is:

  1. exclusively privately controlled
  2. subject to sockpuppets

On the internet, if a site claims it’s “free speech”, but bans any x group of people (women, homosexuals, leftists etc) from their platform, or ever makes editorial decisions, they no longer can claim being “free speech” in good faith. However, countless sites claim, “free speech”, regardless. They simply are not free speech. No public IRL venue can legally ban x demographic group of people if they are subject to properly interpreted free speech laws. It doesn’t meet any criteria of free speech that any average person would agree on. But take a “hands-off” approach to websites and they can and will severely ”limit” not just the amount of people allowed to speak on their platform, but the types of people! Even when its irrelevant to do so with respect to their audience.

If you want to gauge how “free speech” an incel site is, then ask the members how afraid they are that their posts will be banned or taken down. If anyone actually put time into the asking that question, they’d find the sites that parade their “free speech” bonafides the most, actually have the highest percentage of members fearful of what they post.

Many “free speech” sites ban women, liberals and/or leftists disproportionately, in a way no public venue subject to first amendement laws would be allowed to do (with part of the interpretation of the first amendment that right-wingers nominally use for the internet, ie “allow everyone to speak on a neutral platform”). This includes Parler, incels.co, (the “capitulate to corporate media” site dujour) and other misusers of the term “free speech”.

In the future, it would be wise for the US government to amend ”Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act” to only protect those websites that have at least some pretense of being a neutral, non-editorial, inclusive, and non-censorial platform.

Now for the other reason why electronic media cannot be free speech without dramatic state intervention. Sockpuppets have no IRL equivalent, particularly when the US constitution was written. Back to the government run college campus example. Milo Yiannopoulos can’t clone himself IRL into 50000 different people and take up 50 time slots in IRL college campuses. However, online…. him or someone like him, can if they wanted. So now that 1 guy gets 50000 times slots at the college speaking venue, how is it, “free speech”, that one guy monopolizes all the speaking time?

This issue of speech-monopolizing infringing on free speech came to an immediate head with the introduction of the commercial radio broadcast spectrum. It had the same problems the internet has today, that is, speech leaves the college campuses and enters the hands of private corporations and other private entities. Certain voices disappear.

Here we had the introduction of §18 of the Radio Act of 1927, ie the, “Equal Time Rule”, of radio which forced broadcaster to at least extend some semblence of free speech to all eligible political candidates. Lawmakers knew if they didn’t give this rule, one man would have the “free speech” to be on millions of radio sets, whereas another would have the free speech to shout from a park somewhere. That inequality in accessing an audience
seems to defeat the purpose of whatever social policy the First Amendment promotes in the first place.

Now here I’m not claiming that free speech means “equal outcome”, only that any sane definition includes “equal time” with the introduction of mass forms of communication. And I’m not claiming that every website must be a free speech avenue, but only those seeking, “Section 230”, protections, and those that claim they are free speech to preserve those protections.

How could this possibly be enforced on the internet however. With 10000 blogs dedicated to any subject, why would a journalist have to give
equal time to all of them, moreover even §18 of the Radio Act of 1927 only sought to protect the free speech of the most consequential members
of society.

If we wanted to have the kind of free speech that existed in public avenues before mass communication, ie the only definition of free speech
that has any sense of morality or justice or fairness, rather than a lazy, hallow definition frequently cited by right-wingers (and a few left-wingers
like Noam Chomsky), the internet would have to change in a few major ways:

  1. Having the government buy out and own the major internet social media sites, limit the ability of sockpuppets, and have a format that doesn’t hide
    posts, but presents them in a fair distribution so the reader can make up his mind.
  2. Requiring a state ID, tied to a permanent trip code required to post on the government owned major social media sites. One of the reasons 4chan users hated tripcodes so much was is subverted the ability for propaganda actors to sockpuppet, it had nothing to do with anonymity.
  3. Removing Section 230 protections for private entities that ban or delete based on race, gender, or creed

The thing is, Facebook already basically meets both these criteria, except the IDs are encrypted hashes of SMS-verification signatures and enforced by a private entity, but for all practical purposes, Facebook solves most of the the serious problems of free speech on the internet.

It’d be best for the government to just buy out Facebook and make it public. For the government to freeze it’s policies in this space in time, except allowing racism and every other banned topic, and boom, free speech on the internet.

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