Social Media and the Fate of Freedom of Speech

March 23 2022

Last year, a law was passed in Texas that classified the largest social-media platforms as “common carriers,” or “publicly accessible conduits for the goods or communications of others.” In doing so, the law also barred these platforms from discriminating against speech on grounds of viewpoint. That law has since been challenged in court, and, as Philip Hamburger points out, the outcome of this case may have far-reaching implications for the future of free speech. He examines amicus briefs in favor of the Texas law, and notes the broader cultural conflicts reflected in these arguments.

At this stage, what’s most interesting is who is and who is not among the amici—friends of the court—who have come to the aid of free speech by filing briefs in defense of the statute’s constitutionality.

In a rare literary contribution to legal debate, David Mamet offers a powerful vision of the mental dislocation caused by censorship. Donald Landry—a distinguished scientist and doctor—recalls the fate of Galileo to express the danger of suppressing scientific dissent. Students at Columbia draw upon John Stuart Mill to remind us of the value of protecting even erroneous speech. In defense of comedy, the [conservative-leaning satirical website the] Babylon Bee makes a contribution!

The other side will soon have its own amici briefs. But there inevitably will be a stark contrast between the amici for freedom and the resources on the other side.

Big Tech money flows through large law firms, think tanks, and academia. This is not to say that these institutions have sold their souls, but the sheer magnitude of Big Tech’s wealth means there is no end of talent ready to argue for censorship. But legal and moral reasoning does not depend on the number or size of amici. There is, or at least should be, no strength in mobbing a court or representing groupthink. Rather, what should prevail are accurate arguments that uphold rather than twist the law, and that appeal to the mind rather than the passions.

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Read more at Newsweek

More about: American law, David Mamet, Freedom of Speech, Social media

How China Equips the Islamic Republic to Repress Its People

In its dedication to bringing totalitarianism into the 21st century, the Chinese Communist party has developed high-tech forms of surveillance using facial-recognition software, a vast system of “social credit,” and careful control over its subjects’ cellular phones. Even stricter and more invasive measures are applied to the Uyghurs of the northwestern part of the country. Beijing is also happy to export its innovations in tyranny to allies like Iran and Russia. Playing a key role in these advances is a nominally private company called Tiandy Technologies. Craig Singleton describes its activities:

Both Tiandy testimonials and Chinese-government press releases advertise the use of the company’s products by Chinese officials to track and interrogate Uyghur Muslims and other ethnic minorities in China’s Xinjiang province. According to human-rights groups, Chinese authorities also employ Tiandy products, such as “tiger chairs,” to torture Uyghurs and other minorities.

Iran has long relied on China to augment its digital surveillance capabilities, and Tehran was an early adopter of Beijing’s “social-credit” system, which it wields to assess citizens’ behavior and trustworthiness. . . . Iranian government representatives have publicized plans to leverage smart technologies, including AI-powered face recognition, to maintain regime stability and neutralize dissent. Enhanced cooperation with China is central to those efforts.

At present, Tiandy is not subject to U.S. sanctions or export controls. In light of Tiandy’s operations in both Xinjiang and Iran, policymakers should consider removing the company, its owner, and stakeholders from the international financial system and global supply chains.

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Read more at FDD

More about: China, Human Rights, Iran, Totalitarianism, U.S. Foreign policy