Are Tech Companies Censoring Conservatives?
And are Christians next?
A week ago today, Twitter permanently suspended Donald Trump from its platform after giving him a 12-hour suspension and “you-have-one-more-strike-left” warning on the night of Wednesday, January 6th. Earlier in the week, following the siege on the Capitol by his supporters and at his direction, Trump was suspended from Facebook until the inauguration of President-elect Joe Biden, at which point Facebook will re-evaluate his ability to be active on the platform.
Meanwhile, interest in Parler exploded as supporters of Donald Trump want an alternative to Twitter, Facebook, and other major social media platforms they believe are censoring them. The MAGA flight to Parler already happened twice earlier in 2020 when supporters of Donald Trump were angered by ways Twitter and Facebook were labeling his content, especially in regard to the election and his false claims of fraud. But when Donald Trump was permanently banned from Twitter and indefinitely banned from Facebook, Parler’s growth reached heights it never had before.
Then, when all of the MAGA supporters made their very loud move over to Parler, the platforms that allow Parler to function began to end their partnerships with the app. The Google Play and Apple App Store removed the app from their stores within hours of Donald Trump being banned from Twitter. Shortly after that Twilio, a phone verification service ended its relationship with Parler. Then, in the biggest move of all, Amazon Web Services, the literal server platform on which Parler is housed, ended its relationship with Parler early this week, rendering the service totally unusable, at least for the time being.
After all of that, other web services ended their relationship with Donald Trump and his business ventures: Strip payment services, Shopify web store software, and Campaign Monitor email services all cut ties.
Following all of this, I saw dozens of friends and acquaintances on social media saying some version of this, “Big Tech is censoring conservatives and denying them their First Amendment rights!”
I am not a lawyer, but I do write on social media, so I’d like to briefly address two basic questions loaded in this line of thinking:
1) Does the First Amendment apply to social media platforms?
The First Amendment to the Constitution of the United States reads:
Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.
This means, in short, that the government can’t make a law preventing you from some form of speech. The First Amendment protects you from governmental restrictions on speech. The First Amendment does not protect you from restrictions on your speech made by privately-owned companies. For instance, a restaurant owner could kick you out of his restaurant for screaming the ABCs while waiting on your food. The restauranteur is not infringing on your First Amendment right because he is not the government.
Even so, various court systems within the United States, including the Supreme Court, have decided a number of types of speech are not protected under the First Amendment, even from the government. They include, at least in part:
Defamation (including libel and slander)
Incitement to imminent lawless action
Solicitations to commit crimes
So, even if First Amendment protections applied to your speech within a private space like a restaurant or a social media platform, you are still not allowed to commit, say, blackmail on those platforms. That is to say, the government can’t keep you from screaming your ABCs on the sidewalk (unless there is a domestic disturbance complaint), but they can prevent you from blackmailing someone on the sidewalk.
Likewise, you’ll see that “defamation,” “incitement to imminent lawless action,” “true threats,” and “solicitations to commit crimes,” are all listed as kinds of speech that are not protected by the First Amendment. One could find evidence of MAGA supporters and Donald Trump himself repeatedly engaging in one or all of those kinds of unprotected speech on social media.
All of this is to say:
Being banned from a social media platform is not an infringement on one’s First Amendment Rights because social media platforms are private companies who get to make their own rules.
Even if the First Amendment speech protections did apply to content posted to social media platforms, Donald Trump and many of his affiliates have repeatedly engaged in forms of free speech not protected by the First Amendment.
Now, let’s get to the second question. One that is a bit more difficult to answer:
2) Is “Big Tech” censoring conservatives?
Yes, but not because of their conservatism.
Is it true that the MAGA movement has experienced the ban-hammer wrath and collective “cancelling” of many of the biggest power players in the tech world—everyone from Amazon to Apple? Yes that is true.
And is it true that the MAGA movement has historically been wedded to conservative political organizations, namely the Republican party? Yes that is true.
So then, it would appear that Big Tech is censoring “conservatives” disproportionately as of late.
These conservatives are being censored for threats of violence, not conservatism.
Twitter, Facebook, and the rest didn’t ban Trump from their platforms because he proposed tax cuts for the rich, new pro-life legislation, or harsher penalties for illegal immigrants. They banned him because he and many of his associates were using their platforms to incite violence against the United States of America. One of the most conservative viewpoints in American public policy is that a private institution should be able to determine how it does its business—that’s what these tech companies have done.
One friend put it this way, “Imagine Twitter is a bake shop and Donald Trump is a gay couple who wants a wedding cake.” And yeah, that’s a pretty good summary of it.
Let’s be clear: social media platforms can boot people off their platforms for whatever reasons they so choose. If Facebook wanted to ban me because pad thai is my favorite food, they could! If Twitter wanted to ban every conservative from their platform for simply being conservative they would be allowed to do that! But they don’t! Why? Because Twitter isn’t made up of a bunch of liberals who want to silence conservatives. And the same goes for all of these tech companies.
Conservatives are being banned from social media platforms when they incite violence and other forms of speech these platforms have determined are not allowed and with which they want no part. Dan Bongino, Ben Shapiro, Rush Limbaugh, Sean Hannity, Tucker Carlson, and all manner of conservative celebrities are still active on these social media platforms. If tech companies wanted to censor conservatives, you figure they’d go for some of the loudest and most popular to start, yet none of those folks are gone.
So, you may be wondering…
Are Christians next?
If Christians begin to call for people to rise up and lay siege to the U.S. government, yes Christians will be banned from these social media platforms, I assure you.
There is nothing to indicate that any of the recent bans on prominent MAGA figures would lead to a mass banning of Christians from any social media platforms. Why? Because none of the people being barred from any of these services are being barred for their faith in Jesus Christ. Not to mention that, but it would be incredibly bad business for social media companies to ban Christians from their platforms. Not only would they lose tremendous amounts of money, but the PR firestorm would be a nightmare.
But we would be wise to remember this: to use social media is a privilege. While there is nothing to suggest Christians may soon be losing their ability to use social media, there is no guarantee no threat will never exist.
Alas, that is what it is to be an ambassador of an eternal kingdom in a foreign land, is it not? This world is not our home, and we know very well that persecution and trials of all kinds will come our way because of our utmost allegiance to the God of the universe.
Why should we fear our Facebook privileges being taken away? By the grace of God maybe then we would read our Bibles.
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“The siege of the Capitol at the direction of the President” has turned out to be untrue if not an out and out perversion of the truth. Perhaps like our ill informed Congress, you should wait until the professionals have done their job in securing the facts before reciting falsehoods. We have witnessed an illegitimate impeachment because of hate and distortion of the truth. Surely, Christians are better than this!