Posted: October 27th, 2022

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“Free speech – Big tech and censorship,”  The Economist  (PDF on Blackboard) 

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” The Slippery Slope Arrives: Big Tech Censorship Threatens Our Freedoms,”  Newsweek  (web link on Blackboard) 

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Free speech

Big tech and censorship

Silicon Valley should not be given control over free speech

Jan 16th 2021 edition

Leaders

Jan 16th 2021 The first reaction of many people was one of relief. On January 6th, with 14days remaining of his term, the social-media president was suspended from
Twitter after years of pumping abuse, lies and nonsense into the public sphere.
Soon after, many of his cronies and supporters were shut down online by Silicon
Valley, too. The end of their cacophony was blissful. But the peace belies a
limiting of free speech that is chilling for America—and all democracies.

Listen to this story

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The bans that followed the storming of the Capitol were chaotic. On January 7th
Facebook issued an “inde�nite” suspension of Donald Trump. Twitter followed
with a permanent ban a day later. Snapchat and YouTube barred him. An array of
other accounts were suspended. Google and Apple booted Parler, a small social
network popular with the far-right, from their app stores and Amazon kicked
Parler o� its cloud service, forcing it o�ine entirely.

Surely this was acceptable in the face of a mob on the rampage? Legally, private
companies can do as they choose. However, some decisions lacked consistency
or proportionality. Although Twitter cited a “risk of further incitement of
violence” by Mr Trump, the tweets it pointed to did not cross the common legal
threshold de�ning an abuse of the constitutional right to free speech. Meanwhile
Ayatollah Ali Khamenei is still on Twitter and death threats are easy to �nd
online. The companies ought to have focused on individual posts for incitement.
Instead they have banned people, including the president, pushing fringe voices
further from the mainstream. In some cases action was needed, as with Parler’s
poorly policed and violent exchanges, but overall there was no clear test for when
speech should be banned. The internet’s infrastructure, including cloud-
computing services, which should be neutral, risks being drawn into divisive
partisan battles.

The other problem is who made the decisions. The tech industry’s concentration
means that a few unelected and unaccountable executives are in control. Perhaps
their intent really is to protect democracy, but they may also have other, less
elevated motives. Some Democrats cheered, but they should evaluate any new
speech regime based on its broader application. Otherwise an act that silenced
their enemies last week could become a precedent for silencing them in future.
The regrets were telling. Angela Merkel, Germany’s leader, said that private �rms
should not determine speech rules. Alexei Navalny, a Russian dissident, decried
an “unacceptable act of censorship”. Even Jack Dorsey, Twitter’s ceo, called it a
“dangerous precedent”.

There is a better way to deal with speech online. Making the industry more
competitive would help by diluting the clout of individual �rms and by
stimulating new business models that do not rely on virality. But for as long as
the industry is an oligopoly, another approach is needed. The �rst step is to
de�ne a test of what should be censored. In America that should be based on the
constitutional protection of speech. If companies want to go further by attaching
warnings or limiting legal content they need to be transparent and predictable.
Di�cult judgments should fall to independent non-statutory boards that give
people the right of appeal.

Over 80% of Twitter and Facebook users live outside America. In most countries
tech �rms should adhere to local laws on speech—Germany’s rules on hate
speech, say. In autocracies, like Belarus, they should default to the standards they
observe in America. Again, judgments about which standards apply in which
country could be guided by media boards. This may harm American �rms in
more places: this week Uganda banned Facebook and Twitter ahead of a
contentious election.

America needs to resolve its constitutional crisis through a political process, not
censorship. And the world must seek a better way of dealing with speech online
than allowing tech oligopolies to take control of fundamental liberties.7

Recommended

This article appeared in the Leaders section of the print edition under the headline “The sound of silence”

Reuse this content The Trust Project

0:000:00 / 5:15/ 5:15

America and Europe
clamp down on big tech

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technosphere

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2/5/2021 The Slippery Slope Arrives: Big Tech Censorship Threatens Our Freedoms | Opinion

https://www.newsweek.com/slippery-slope-arrives-big-tech-censorship-threatens-our-freedoms-opinion-1560667 1/21

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OPINION

The Slippery Slope Arrives: Big Tech Censorship Threatens
Our Freedoms | Opinion

JONATHAN TOBIN , EDITOR IN CHIEF, JNS.ORG
ON 1/13/21 AT 7:30 AM EST

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2/5/2021 The Slippery Slope Arrives: Big Tech Censorship Threatens Our Freedoms | Opinion

https://www.newsweek.com/slippery-slope-arrives-big-tech-censorship-threatens-our-freedoms-opinion-1560667 2/21

E

      

O P I N I O N T W IT T E R FAC E B O O K A M A ZO N W E B S E R V I C E S A P P L E

ven before President Donald Trump’s appalling conduct last week, there

was already a constituency growing for banning him from social media

and anything else anyone could think of. But by challenging Congress’ ritual

acceptance of the Electoral College results with a rally where his false claims and

incendiary rhetoric egged the crowd to march on the U.S. Capitol, where many

morphed into a violent mob, Trump has turned himself into the sort of pariah few

beyond his most faithful supporters will defend.

Yet the reaction to the Capitol riot has gone far beyond mere national outrage.

The post-riot willingness of the Big Tech giants to collude in an effort to shut down

the communicative ability of the president and his backers—an ostensible effort to

defend democracy—has actually created a far greater threat to free speech and


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2/5/2021 The Slippery Slope Arrives: Big Tech Censorship Threatens Our Freedoms | Opinion

https://www.newsweek.com/slippery-slope-arrives-big-tech-censorship-threatens-our-freedoms-opinion-1560667 3/21

democratic discourse than anything Trump did in his four years in office. While

many feared Trump’s authoritarian instincts, the response to the riot has enabled

Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg, Twitter’s Jack Dorsey and Amazon’s Jeff Bezos to

become the arbiters of what may or may not be said in the nation’s virtual public

square in a way that any would-be American dictator would envy.

Trump’s disastrous decision to try and pressure Georgia’s secretary of state to

effectively falsify the presidential vote in that state (which played a key role in the

loss of the two Senate run-off elections there) and his role in fomenting the

Capitol riot were both indefensible—as are many of the tweets he’s sent out since

losing the 2020 presidential election, in which he has relentlessly hyped

unsubstantiated claims of massive fraud.

So when, after a growing chorus of demands to”stop enabling [Trump’s]

monstrous behavior” from liberal celebrities like Michelle Obama, Twitter and then

Facebook decided to ban or suspend his accounts, the president’s sundry

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https://www.newsweek.com/

2/5/2021 The Slippery Slope Arrives: Big Tech Censorship Threatens Our Freedoms | Opinion

https://www.newsweek.com/slippery-slope-arrives-big-tech-censorship-threatens-our-freedoms-opinion-1560667 4/21

opponents cheered. Twitter also began locking out other people—like Fox News

commentator and radio host Dan Bongino—who used their accounts to retweet

the president’s somewhat equivocal post-riot messages, which continued to claim

that the election won by Biden was really a “landslide” for Trump that was stolen

from him. Other figures closely associated with Trump, like former National

Security Advisor Michael Flynn and discredited attorney Sidney Powell, were also

kicked off the social media platform.

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Yet the Big Tech crackdown didn’t stop there. Google Play and Apple kicked

Parler, a social media company that bills itself as a free speech safe zone and a

would-be competitor for Twitter, off its ubiquitous app stores because Parler had

not shut down certain comments from its users. Things got worse for Parler when

Amazon Web Services—which controls about half of all available public cloud

infrastructure—announced that it would boot the site off its hosting service. In

order to remain open, Parler had been told that it must start moderating the posts

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2/5/2021 The Slippery Slope Arrives: Big Tech Censorship Threatens Our Freedoms | Opinion

https://www.newsweek.com/slippery-slope-arrives-big-tech-censorship-threatens-our-freedoms-opinion-1560667 5/21

published on its site and “remove all objectionable material.” When it refused to

do so, Amazon blacked out the site, which is currently down and may remain so

indefinitely, as it tries to find a new provider unafraid of risking the displeasure of

industry giants.

Thus, in a few days, not only has Trump lost access to the platform that served as

his direct line to more than 80 million followers, Twitter, but his supporters are

similarly being silenced by having their accounts locked and/or their preferred

Twitter alternative de-platformed.

Those doing the silencing don’t think there is any irony in their justifying this sort

of censorship in the name of democracy. As Mrs. Obama laid out in her

manifesto, Trump supporters are not merely being shamed by linkage to the

criminal actions of a mob, but are being treated as accessories to an actual

“insurrection.”

As journalist Glenn Greenwald presciently pointed out, the sense of outrage on

the part of almost all Americans about what happened at the Capitol is being used

by social media companies and the liberal politicians cheering them on to justify

the sort of overreaction that could be compared to the restrictions on civil liberties

that were enacted by the George W. Bush administration in the wake of the 9/11

attacks. As odious as the Capitol riot was and as irresponsible as Trump’s


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2/5/2021 The Slippery Slope Arrives: Big Tech Censorship Threatens Our Freedoms | Opinion

https://www.newsweek.com/slippery-slope-arrives-big-tech-censorship-threatens-our-freedoms-opinion-1560667 6/21

language and actions have been, his supporters are now being treated as if they

are the moral equivalent of a 74-million-strong al-Qaeda cell.

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The conspiracy theories being circulated about the election are appalling—as was

the willingness of Trump and his most devoted followers to try to interfere with the

peaceful transfer of power by seeking to prevent certification of the Electoral

College results. But the response from Big Tech illustrates that fears about these

companies using their unique power to shut down content they disapprove of is

no longer one about a mere “slippery slope” to censorship. That censorship is

now at our doorstep.

Parler was banned by Apple, Google Play and Amazon Web Services

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2/5/2021 The Slippery Slope Arrives: Big Tech Censorship Threatens Our Freedoms | Opinion

https://www.newsweek.com/slippery-slope-arrives-big-tech-censorship-threatens-our-freedoms-opinion-1560667 7/21

With the Big Tech giants joining together to censor Trump and those supporting

him, we have arrived at a point where a handful of billionaires who control the

modern information superhighway are not merely thinking about censorship—they

are actively engaged in it. What’s more, they are doing it with the implicit support

of the incoming Biden-Harris administration and its supporters.

In recent years, worries about the growing influence of fringe groups and

conspiracy theorists have led many to believe that social media platforms must

start to censor users, lest they become accomplices to hate-mongers.

At first, that took the form of efforts to force Facebook and Twitter to shut down

neo-Nazis and Holocaust deniers, with people like actor and comedian Sacha

Baron Cohen tearing into Facebook’s Zuckerberg for his refusal to more

aggressively regulate content on his site. But now that the social media

companies have complied with those demands, predictions that censorship

wouldn’t stop with the Nazis are being vindicated.

As private companies, Twitter, Facebook, Google (which has sought to

demonetize conservative sites like The Federalist) and Amazon can do what they

want. They are not the government, which means they are within their rights in

deciding to limit discourse on their sites.


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NBC Said Google Is Demonetizing The Federalist for Spreading Fake News; Google Says the NBC Report Is Fake News

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2/5/2021 The Slippery Slope Arrives: Big Tech Censorship Threatens Our Freedoms | Opinion

https://www.newsweek.com/slippery-slope-arrives-big-tech-censorship-threatens-our-freedoms-opinion-1560667 8/21

It’s not a violation of anyone’s constitutional rights to be denied, say, the

opportunity to have an op-ed published in The New York Times or The

Washington Post. The same applies when a book publishing company like Simon

& Schuster decides to rescind a decision to put out a book, as Sen. Josh Hawley

(R-MO) learned this past week when that firm chose not to be associated with

someone who supported Trump’s effort to protest the Electoral College vote.

But the Big Tech companies are in a very different position. Amazon and Google

possess a virtual monopoly over the Internet. With more than three billion global

users, Facebook is the landlord for America’s national public square—and the

same is true, to a lesser extent, for Twitter. Facebook and Twitter have achieved

this kind of dominance while acting as traditional publishers but nonetheless

possessing the kind of immunity from liability that any newspaper or magazine

couldn’t dream of: Section 230 of the 1996 Communications Decency Act has

exempted them from being held accountable for what goes up on their platforms.

Treating them as internet bulletin boards, rather than publishers, has enabled

them to dominate communications in a way no publication or broadcast outlet has

ever done before. This despite the fact Facebook and Twitter have actively

embraced the usual prerogative of publishers by censoring material they find

objectionable.


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2/5/2021 The Slippery Slope Arrives: Big Tech Censorship Threatens Our Freedoms | Opinion

https://www.newsweek.com/slippery-slope-arrives-big-tech-censorship-threatens-our-freedoms-opinion-1560667 9/21

Big Tech’s influence on the incoming Biden administration is such that it is unlikely

their power will be diminished in any serious way. In this way, silencing Trump and

his supporters not only fits with the political prejudices of the social media

oligarchs that control the flow of information, but is also clearly good for business.

The bans on Trump and his supporters are being treated as no different from

efforts to block hate groups. But the problem is that Big Tech’s principles are

wildly inconsistent. Wild and unproven claims about election fraud are troubling,

but are they really worse than the way Twitter allows China’s Communist

government to spread lies and propaganda—or Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah

Ali Khamenei to use his account to issue death threats against dissidents and the

state of Israel, while at the same time stopping the people living under that

Islamist tyranny from freely expressing their own opinions? While Twitter has

always defended giving foreign dictators the right to use Twitter as a matter of

defending freedom of information and readers’ right to know important

information, Dorsey isn’t prepared to extend that same courtesy to Trump. Nor is

there any evidence that threats against Republican lawmakers are resulting in

Twitter bans.

As we saw during the election campaign, when the social media companies

stepped in to protect Joe Biden by using their power to silence a New York Post

story about his son Hunter’s corrupt foreign business connections, the ability of

these Silicon Valley oligarchs to impact discourse is neither disinterested nor

benign. And whatever anyone thinks of Trump, or how much anyone would like

him to go away and give the country some peace, the notion that Zuckerberg,

Dorsey and Bezos should be allowed to silence him and any potential competitor

that might allow him a platform is completely antithetical to any idea of a working

democracy or a free market of ideas.

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2/5/2021 The Slippery Slope Arrives: Big Tech Censorship Threatens Our Freedoms | Opinion

https://www.newsweek.com/slippery-slope-arrives-big-tech-censorship-threatens-our-freedoms-opinion-1560667 10/21

As much as a healthy distrust of government interference in private businesses is

generally well founded, the power of these Big Tech companies to control public

discourse is a clear and present danger—not just to those with whom their

owners disagree, but to everyone who values basic free speech ideals.

Jonathan S. Tobin is editor in chief of JNS.org, a senior contributor to The

Federalist and a columnist for the New York Post. Follow him on Twitter:

@jonathans_tobin.

The views expressed in this article are the writer’s own.

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2/5/2021 The Slippery Slope Arrives: Big Tech Censorship Threatens Our Freedoms | Opinion

https://www.newsweek.com/slippery-slope-arrives-big-tech-censorship-threatens-our-freedoms-opinion-1560667 11/21

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2/5/2021 The Slippery Slope Arrives: Big Tech Censorship Threatens Our Freedoms | Opinion

https://www.newsweek.com/slippery-slope-arrives-big-tech-censorship-threatens-our-freedoms-opinion-1560667 12/21

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2/5/2021 The Slippery Slope Arrives: Big Tech Censorship Threatens Our Freedoms | Opinion

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2/5/2021 The Slippery Slope Arrives: Big Tech Censorship Threatens Our Freedoms | Opinion

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J Jazzphoto
14 January, 2021

As a Prof. Musician of 40 years that performed 11 years ago in Beijing, I watched real state
controlled Propaganda in my hotel room on their TV. What I’m witnessing right now from not

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2/5/2021 The Slippery Slope Arrives: Big Tech Censorship Threatens Our Freedoms | Opinion

https://www.newsweek.com/slippery-slope-arrives-big-tech-censorship-threatens-our-freedoms-opinion-1560667 15/21

Show 3 more replies

only Zuckeberg, Dorsey, Bezos and Google too, but also some networks is eerily very
similar…This is not good. Not good at all…

Reply 8

Show 5 more replies

J jimmyjammer
13 January, 2021

Someone is going to have to reel in the Big Tech companies – yes, they are a private business
and can do what they want – virtually fully protected by the government (not the constitution).
Everybody knows, as a fact, they are in the pockets of liberal politicians. On the one hand, I
understand them doing some things (like censoring hate speech on their platform/apps), but to
shut down Parlor and make subjective decisions on who gets to be in business and who doesn’t
is at best, the worst thing that can happen to American democracy. We are not going down a
slipper slope as the author noted, we are there. I can guarantee you they (big tech) are still
allowing hate speech by fringe groups on the left. If you were a Trump supporter, you will have
no voice even if the supporters who were thugs have nothing to do with the 99% of the people
who voted for Trump, so in essence you punish all by the deeds of the very few. This will
eventually come back to either bite the big tech companies and their democrat allies, if the
constitution means anything at all, or will lead to the complete erosion of any hope for anything
free and fair to happen. The American people are fed up with what our modern politics have
turned into – there is enough pathetic politicians on both sides. They only care about their
power, not the American people. We better smarten up, before we slide too far down the
slippery slope (and yes, it can get worse, unless something is done for “we the people”).

Reply 12 5

Show 2 more replies

O OrangeMustache
13 January, 2021

“But the Big Tech companies are in a very di�erent position. Amazon and Google possess a
virtual monopoly over the Internet. ” is false. Any organization the size of parler can host its
own servers on the internet, it is easy, high schools can do it with free software.
These are just capitalist companies doing what is best for their shareholders. They do not want
the legal exposure of Trump’s posts.

Reply 7 16

G GreenProcessor
13 January, 2021

You know that censorship is when the Government blocks free speech, Private business has
never been required to get public approval for Business decisions, that’s where the strike,
unions and boycotts come into play. If you don’t like the way a business operates don’t support


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2/5/2021 The Slippery Slope Arrives: Big Tech Censorship Threatens Our Freedoms | Opinion

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it, they have enough laws and regulations to follow now without you claiming your
Constitutional rights have been violated.

Reply 3 8

Show 1 more reply

A ACAB
13 January, 2021

Protip: when your headline is literally the name of a logical fallacy, it’s time to rethink things.

Reply 6 1

Show 1 more reply

TR The Clash Rule!
15 January, 2021

I am so sick and tired of the double standard that the Left get away with. No problem when
BLM & ANTIFA caused havoc all summer in the big cities. Looting, rioting, burning, violence incl
murder. Molotov cocktails. So many small businesses owned by minorities burnt to the ground.
The MSM and high pro�le Democrats encouraged it and the Mayors let it happen. It was ok
when BLM “stormed” the Capital Building a few years ago. And it’s so obvious that it was mostly
ANTIFA instigators dressed in MAGA hats, etc. anyways. Funny how such an important
institution was so low on security (esp knowing of a massive protest planned) and how the
“cops” opened the gate to let them in. Trump NEVER incited a riot. If anything, he’s supported
Law & Order since Day One. When are people going to learn that the MSM is nothing but a
propaganda arm for the Left and the CCP. They can censor Hunter Biden’s laptop with proof of
corruption with China & the Ukraine. Not to mention his very disturbing pedophilia issues. I
don’t care what side of the aisle you are on…censorship is wrong. And who gets to decide what
is “hate speech” or “disinformation.” Very subjective. And by the way, a 5 year old could see the
massive election fraud. Trump’s rallies averaged 25,000-40,000 people. Biden maybe 30. Can’t
blame Covid either because the one Trump parade of vehicles was 97 miles long. Trump’s
Twitter following was 88.6 million while Biden’s is 22.4 million. But yeah…Biden won.

Reply 2

Show 4 more replies

L lr7660
13 January, 2021

Talk about not being able to see the forest for the trees! Were you asleep when the Capitol was
attacked by your right wing cohorts? Do you realize that twitter and facebook are just
entertainment venues like the national enquirer? Do you believe these bans prevent your alt
right opinions from �nding other media to publish- (that can’t be true as you are published
here) Your movement does not need twitter nor facebook. The question is does the United
States and the world really need exposure to right wing poison.

Reply 5 12


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R RedBowtie
13 January, 2021

Hilarious. Americans have a right to twitter, but not health care.

Reply 4 6

Show 1 more reply

B b
13 January, 2021

I got thrown out of a bar! Before you know it, everyone will be thrown out of the bar, and it’ll be
literally Nazi Germany!

Reply 8 4

Joe Harkins
15 January, 2021

I demand that Newsweek publish anything I wish. If you do not, you are violating my free
speech. Oh, wait . . . you mean you are a private business like Twitter and Facebook and have
the absolute right to decide what is published on your private medium? But, but, but

Reply 2

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