Twitter took the unprecedented step on Friday of banning the president of the United States from its platform. Their justification lay in the dubious assertion Trump incited the vastly overblown incident inside the Capitol on January 6, as lawmakers attempted to count the electoral votes for president sent by the states.
Never mind that banning Trump can only incite more violence. There is the larger question of whether this constitutes an assault on free speech and what should be done about it. For libertarians, if not conservatives (no, they’re not remotely the same thing), the answer should be clear as far as government action goes: nothing.
The left’s timeworn tactic of calling anyone who opposes outright socialism a racist has worn so thin as to become cartoonish. There is a significant segment of the population who are sick of it. That was one of the major reasons Donald Trump was elected in 2016. Trump got 12 million more votes in 2020 than he did then.
Until Covid-19 and the monstrous, unscientific government response to it, it seemed the left had learned little from their previous defeat. No longer content to simply call non-socialists “racists,” they now upped the ante to “white supremacist” or “white nationalist.” Why? Let’s forget the meaning of the actual terms. For most Americans, “white supremacist” merely means “somebody who’s way worse than even a racist.”
I don’t believe Donald Trump is a racist and he has certainly never advanced a single policy that can accurately be described as “white supremacist.” Neither do I believe any significant portion of the 74 million people who voted for him did so because they are racists or white supremacists. But just as hundreds of his supporters may have been baited by FBI infiltrators, Antifa activists, or both into committing a self-destructive act on Wednesday, Trump’s and his supporters’ call for government action against Google, Facebook, Twitter, etc. is going to blow up in their faces.
Let’s not forget the libertarian and conservative position on the 1964 Civil Rights Act. In a nutshell, both groups generally agree with the Act’s prohibitions on any government-enforced racism. But purists in both camps disagree with its prohibitions on private businesses, specifically in Titles II and VII. I was clear in my own piece on the subject that these sections of the law should be repealed. Why? Because people have a right to make whatever rules they want on their own property, no matter how vile we may find them.
I stand by that position to this day, regardless of my personal feelings on the Jim Crow south (and north, in some cases). Yes, I fully understand Jim Crow was state and local governments prohibiting integration in restaurants and hotels and that those laws were only necessary because some people would presumably integrate their businesses without them. But let’s not pretend Jim Crow laws had no support among the people. They had overwhelming support. And they were really, really bad.
Quincy Jones recounted how black musicians had to sleep in a mortuary, with several dead bodies, while on tour in the South, because “separate but equal” failed to provide any hotels. People would travel hundreds of miles looking for a “separate but equal” place to eat lunch or even use a restroom. Next to what these people went through, suspension of our supposedly God-given right to bloviate on Twitter rather pales in comparison.
If we’re going to defend the property rights of segregationists, and I do, then we’re going to have to answer for why we don’t defend the property rights of woke tech giants. I defend them for precisely the same reason I defend the property rights of the 1960s lunch counter owner from refusing to serve black people. It’s his lunch counter. If you believe in limited government, it’s the government’s job to enforce his property rights, not other people’s preferences.
As long as I’ve been a libertarian, the answer to the question, “What would stop people from doing reprehensible things without government?” has been, “private enforcement of property rights.” Ostracism has frequently been cited as a tool individuals could use to fight against distasteful behavior and speech without government.
Well, here we are. Tech giants and the woke crowd have been doing precisely what we libertarians have always said was the non-government way to avoid associating with people we don’t want to associate with. And what is our reaction? “Regulate them!”
How could anyone credibly argue there isn’t hypocrisy here? What defense would any libertarian or conservative who objects to Titles II and VII on principle offer to those who charge them with racism, when they abandon those principles now?
Yes, it’s true the call for regulation by Trump and his supporters is to remove an exemption in Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act (CDA) of 1996 to protect internet content providers from being sued for content by their users. This, argues the regulate crowd, gives them an unfair advantage over traditional media. Somehow, also goes the argument, this allows them to achieve “monopoly power” over the internet.
Are they kidding?
Yes, this is a protection afforded internet providers over traditional media, but it doesn’t give Google any particular advantage over other search engines nor Facebook or Twitter over MeWe or Parler. But the real question is, “Do libertarians and conservatives have total amnesia?” Does no one remember how the internet was celebrated just a few years ago as a way around the gatekeeper traditional media? Now, we’re supposed to defend CNN against Twitter and somehow that will help our cause?
Besides being tactically moronic, it’s unprincipled. If you’re a libertarian and won’t go full Monty anarcho-capitalist, then you should be looking to extend the protection to traditional media, not take it away from the tech platforms. That’s the free speech position, to protect speech from government-enforced mobbism in the courtrooms.
Let’s face it. We like to criticize the left for being dumb, especially on economics. But they’re not. They’re smart and they’re winning. The tech billionaires became billionaires largely because they think strategically. They’ve maneuvered the entire non-socialist movement into betraying their own most fiercely held principles and opening themselves up to the tired charge of racism and making it stick. I’m not sure even I could effectively defend against a charge of racism someone who thinks Titles II and VII should be abolished but Twitter should be regulated. On what grounds?
If we want to fight for property rights, free markets, and individual liberty, the special pleading must stop. Arguments like, “this isn’t really a free market” are astoundingly obtuse. Are we saying that unless and until there is 100% laissez faire, all property rights are off the table? Good luck with that. You might as well vote for AOC in 2024.
Tom Mullen is the author of Where Do Conservatives and Liberals Come From? And What Ever Happened to Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness? Part One and A Return to Common Sense: Reawakening Liberty in the Inhabitants of America.