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In the aftermath of Wednesday’s Capitol riot, Big Tech went nuclear.
Most prominently, Facebook and Twitter suspended President Trump’s accounts on their platforms: Facebook’s suspension will last though the president’s remaining time in office, while Twitter’s ban is permanent.
Trump was not the only prominent conservative figure suspended: former National Security Advisor Michael Flynn and his lawyer Sidney Powell were also banned from Twitter.
Naturally, focus shifted to Parler, the most prominent of the “free-speech” alternatives to Facebook and Twitter. After President Trump’s suspensions, traffic to the site soared; consequently, left-wing activists demanded that Google and Apple pull Parler from their app stores. Apple and Google quickly complied. Amazon, too, joined Parler’s auto-da-fé, denying Parler access to Amazon Web Services.
These actions, if not reversed, will devastate Parler’s business. Combined, Apple and Google control 99.8 percent of the US mobile operating-system market. Given that most social-media consumption happens on mobile phones, a social network without access to Google and Apple’s app stores is doomed to failure.
For years, in the face of escalating censorship from Big Tech, some conservatives have argued that entrepreneurship is the solution; that instead of regulating these companies, we ought “build our own Facebook and Twitter.” Parler, perhaps naively, followed their suggestions; its reward was to be crushed by the might of Google, Apple, and Amazon.
Simply put: The conservatives who argued against regulating Big Tech were wrong. Facebook, Twitter, Apple, Google, and Amazon are insulated from meaningful competition, and when a competitor like Parler does show up, the companies act collectively to squash them.
What, then, should be done? First, the Parler purge should be investigated as an antitrust violation. The Sherman Antitrust Act makes conspiracies in restraint of trade unlawful; Parler has a colorable claim that Apple, Google, and Amazon acted in concert to crush their company.
Antitrust is just the beginning. Conservatives are facing a collective, inescapable, yet private regime of discrimination and censorship. The only institution powerful enough to defeat this cartel is the federal government. If and when Republicans retake power in 2024, the first item on the agenda should be new laws that protect every American’s civil right to speak freely on social media.
And yes, the right of all Americans to speak on social media should be seen as a civil right.
The Fourteenth Amendment made governmental racial discrimination unlawful; that, though, was not enough to make our country’s underlying commitment to racial equality meaningful, so the federal government passed laws prohibiting racial discrimination by private companies.
Similarly, the First Amendment protects against government censorship. But in 2020, most political debate happens on large social-media platforms. Facebook and Twitter are the modern public square. Thus, if our society’s commitment to free speech is to have any meaning, our government must constrain large social-media companies from censoring Americans’ lawful speech.
Poland, appropriately enough, is leading the way. Their Justice Minister, Zbigniew Ziobro, announced last month that the Polish government would enact a law constraining Big Tech from censoring their citizens. Polish users who are victims of censorship can go to a new Polish court, get an injunction forcing the company to restore their account and their content, on penalty of a fine of as much as 1.8 million euros.
We should do the same. Americans should have the same right to speak on large social-media platforms that they do in a public park. We simply need to change the law to make that a reality.
Will Chamberlain is senior counsel at the Internet Accountability Project.