For as long as tyranny has existed, free speech has remained under attack. But the federal government isn’t directly infringing that freedom these days. The mantle has been taken up by the woke left, which is using its influence over corporate America and its vast mob of bizarrely coiffed devotees to badger you into submission.
You no longer hesitate to express your opinions (as correct as they nearly certainly are) for fear of jackbooted thugs whisking you away to Room 101. You do so to avoid becoming social media’s next Saint Sebastian du jour.
Christians, bite your tongues if you believe life begins at conception. Patriots, don’t you dare to venerate a Founding Father. Libertarians, leave your homes wearing libertarian shirts at your peril. You’re all just one trending hashtag away from getting canceled.
Big Tech leads the woke left’s charge against free speech. Deviate too far from goodthink and you’ll get deplatformed as quickly as the Zuck can snap his fingers. Even posing with a stuffed animal on Instagram risks eliciting the woke mob’s death threats. You really do have to admire their efficiency. Big Tech has what is essentially an army of volunteer Stasi at its service, ready to pounce on dissidents and restrict the public discourse at a moment’s notice.
Liberals and libertarians-in-name-only may be quick to point out that Big Tech has every right to banish heretics. The First Amendment, they argue, only restricts the government from violating what is arguably mankind’s fundamental right. And this is technically correct, albeit an amoral defense. The government doesn’t grant the right to free speech – it merely acknowledges that everyone is born with it. It is the pinnacle of weaseldom to rationalize that private sector actors can deprive you of your God-given right to free speech simply because your views don’t align with their own.
Free speech is not some legal principle for lawyers to tap dance around. It is a guiding principle that no person or organization can justly violate.
But the woke left disagrees. To them, free speech is a convenient tool with which to gain power. The instant it could weaken their control over any sphere of public or private life, free speech suddenly turns into hate speech – or at best the rantings of some despicable loony.
The woke left’s persecution of thought criminals is not some new thing. In 2012 we saw the public humiliation of a Christian baker simply because he refused to bake a cake for a gay wedding. If you’re waiting for the same castigation of a Muslim or Jewish-owned cakery, don’t hold your breath.
Jack Phillips wasn’t prohibiting a single person from expressing themself. Hundreds of Denver area bakeries would gladly have taken the job. In contrast, Big Tech has so thoroughly monopolized social media that few public fora remain. (You can always post your opinion on a Mongolian basket weaving forum, but this is less a form of public expression than it is a means of collecting rare Pepes.)
Isolation. This is the woke left’s intention for any ideas which stray just a little too far to the right of its own.
Any argument that the government is nothing to do with woke left censorship falls flat once you’ve observed elected officials issuing thinly veiled demands that Big Tech censor wrongthink. And whenever the First Amendment prohibits politicians from censoring free speech directly, they’re perfectly able to negotiate with Big Tech’s management behind closed doors – often while they enjoy cushy jobs as consultants, as lobbyists, or even as employees or board members in full.
College campuses’ aggressive censorship puts Big Tech to shame, although they have even less license to do so. Tinker v. Des Moines Independent Community School District held that “students did not lose their First Amendment rights to freedom of speech when they stepped onto school property,” and yet publicly funded state schools think nothing of expelling a student for something they said on social media. In short, if you have the same position on gay marriage that Hilary Clinton expressed in 2004, and you go so far as to tweet it, you may as well forfeit your chances of ever learning lesbian dance theory in college.
The college debacle aside, should private businesses have the right to deny service to people? Yes – provided they are something akin to a mom and pop bakery and not a heavily subsidized, behemoth tech company that has virtually monopolized what is tantamount to the Digital Age’s public square. The line may not always be so easily drawn, but as a First Amendment absolutist, I believe we must do everything we’re able to preserve free speech. If we fail at this sacred mission, then the woke left may one day be shocked to discover that they’ve only been sharpening a tool for use by a very unsavory master.