Facebook And The First Amendment

facebookspeech

Kris Morgan 10/16/18

Earlier this month Facebook underwent a massive purge. According to westernjournal.com, a total of 209 pages were unpublished as of this date. Many of these pages were libertarian, conservative, and/or merely anti-liberal. Among those deleted were: Police The Police, Voluntaryist Veterans, Liberty Belle, Silence Is Consent, and more. Since Facebook is not a government entity, nor did Congress pass a law to make it happen, making a first amendment complaint seem hyperbolic. However, Facebook is not quite off the hook. We already made the cultural arguments for uncensored speech on private platforms; Here we will explore the constitutional.

From FY2000 to present the social media outlet has received $332.3 million in subsidies ($274,477 from the federal government). This changes the game. Where our money goes is a direct expression of preference. Additionally, in 2002 while ruling on the issue of corporate donations to political campaigns, the Supreme Court noted “corporations should enjoy a First Amendment right to spend money and advocate political and policy positions during election seasons just as individuals can.”

So since the court ruled money going to a campaign constituted free speech, I submit that taking money from taxpayers and giving it another party who actively censors speech is a violation. If it is unconstitutional to block monetary donations from individuals during an election season, then surely it is equally evil to force a person to fund an enterprise deleting political pages they agree with, or promoting ones they do not. On top of that, it just so happens that said purge occurred with the midterms just around the corner, or ‘during an election season’ as the SCOTUS put it.

Ron Paul once stated that “we don’t have freedom of speech so we can talk about the weather.” In fact, political speech warrants more protection than any other form. Classroom.com communicated this fact perfectly when they wrote “the First Amendment broadly prohibits the government from making laws that restrict freedom of speech. Political speech includes not just speech by the government or candidates for office, but also any discussion of social issues.”

All things being equal, private parties should always retain their ability to determine who is allowed to speak about what on their property. However, when public funds are involved, things are not equal. While the tax code itself may not have been written for the purposes of infringing on free speech, that is the effect of what is happening. Government at all levels has taken our money and given it to a private business which is controlling political discourse. The pages lost had a combined 61 million followers; it is fair to say some of those people involuntarily paid for the subsidies Facebook received, only to see political speech they are at least willing to entertain vanish.

Given the information above, there is no question our free speech rights have been violated. The chief culprit is our government, through the act of providing public money to a third party engaged in censorship. The money in question very well could have been given to political candidates and the promotion of messages we actually do support. Whether or not the people at Facebook collaborated with politicians is a matter for the courts to determine. If they did, then they too should be held responsible for subverting American elections and undermining our constitution. If not, then the least we should be willing to accept is for private peoples to choose between accepting subsidies and controlling their political content.

Libertarians favor both the ending of subsidies and the promotion of speech. However, the sight of a company receiving hundreds of millions of dollars in taxpayer funds AND screening the political messages the people themselves create should set off a red flag in all our minds. After all, with hundreds of millions in subsidies, how much of Facebook is really private?

 

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The author’s views and opinions expressed herein do not necessarily reflect those of the entire Ask A Libertarian Team or its followers.

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