Now that I’ve discussed some of the First Amendment legalisms in Gavin McInnes’ lawsuit against the Southern Poverty Law Center. I’d like to talk about something else: deplatforming. As I write this, attorney Ron Coleman is on Twitter discussing his reasons for representing McInnes. Among them:
McInnes devotes quite a bit of energy to this issue in his complaint. Because SPLC has labeled the Proud Boys a hate group, he’s been deplatformed—deprived of his ability to post content on Twitter, Facebook, and other platforms where he’s used to writing. Moreover, he’s also lost revenue streams, as (he says) SPLC and its political allies have targeted that platforms and payment processors to cut him off from the income he earned through his speech.
“Freedom of the press is guaranteed only to those who own one”— A.J. Liebling
McInnes does not have the constitutional right to publish on Twitter, Facebook, Google, whatever. Those “presses” are owned by Twitter, Facebook, Google, whatever. And McInnes certainly does not have the constitutional right to earn money from his speech. After all, the First Amendment only says you have the right to talk. It says nothing about the right to force other people to let you talk in their yards, or to a right to have someone else pay you to talk.
But it’s still uncomfortable, isn’t it? A handful of companies dominate searching, interpersonal communication, and social networking on the Internet. At their say-so, an Internet person can become an Internet unperson, effectively erased from YouTube, Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, Google—virtually everywhere people go—with a few keystrokes.
Quoth the Coleman:
And that really bothers me. Today, the Southern Poverty Law Center persuades the Internet titans to punish the Proud Boys because the proud boys are a hate group, and the SPLC and its allies make a case that the Proud Boys’ speech is harming people. Tomorrow, will the Alliance Defending Freedom or the Family Research Council successfully make the same argument about the SPLC and the ACLU?
Or the major Internet players will be the unwilling patsies when a foreign power attempts to influence American elections through a coordinated misinformation campaign. (Nah, that’ll never happen.)
In a perfect world, those of us unsatisfied with Google, Facebook, and Twitter will go create our own platforms, these new platforms will compete with the existing platforms, and the free market will determine who wins. Unfortunately, right now, it’s difficult for something like that to happen. The incumbent players are so big, and so successful, that it is difficult for anyone else to enter the market. Which effectively leaves things in the hands of a very small group of entities.
I’d like to see the federal government address this in the future. Perhaps there needs to be a legal regimen that both respects the First Amendment and imposes certain obligations on Silicon Valley’s biggest players. Or perhaps Google needs to go the way of Ma Bell. I honestly don’t know.
But McInnes’ position on other issues does not invalidate concerns about the power wielded by tech’s biggest firms.
James is a guest contributor to the BZ/MP. A former journalist and longtime lawyer, James provides insightful analysis of legal issues of the day to assist in the general understanding of high profile issues and questions with legal dimensions. (All opinions of our opinion writers and analysts do not reflect the position of BZ/MP or any person affiliated with BZ/MP other than the author themselves.)