Yes Virginia, Corporate Censorship is a Thing

A Response to the “Well technically…” People

Whenever a conservative such as Steven Crowder speaks or writes about social media companies censoring their content, there’s an inevitable torrent of comments from the “well technically” people that usually goes (quoting almost verbatim) “private companies can’t censor people stoopid!1!! The first amendment only applies to the government #LOL”. Not only are these people wrong, they are spectacularly wrong on legal, philosophical, and technical grounds (even ignoring the “problematic” collusion between social media companies and governments & beltway insiders to remove/block content).

Argument I: Techno shit, Sherlock

If these people actually read the Constitution, they’d know that the First Amendment applies to Congress. It states: Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.
It could be argued that the Founders, naively believing that subsequent generations would actually obey the Constitution, intended for it to apply to the whole of the federal government since Congress not being able to make laws meant that there’d be no laws for the Executive to enforce or the Judiciary to interpret. That still leaves the First Amendment applying only to the federal government. At the time of the founding (and for almost 200 years thereafter) state, county, and municipal governments had all sorts of laws against obscenity, pornography, public indecency, etc. And there are still many restrictions in existence, such as requiring permits to hold demonstrations on public lands and being held in contempt for using profanity in a courtroom.
And if you wanted to get really pedantic about Constitutional technicalities, President Trump could order a crackdown on all of the leftist protests, as they are neither assembling peaceably nor petitioning the government for a redress of grievances. Autistic monkey-screams and smashing shit is not Constitutionally protected speech. Not relevant to the discussion, it’s just a fun aside.

Argument II: I’m no lawyer, but…

Social media companies (especially Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube) present themselves to the public as platforms of free expression. Conservative commentators large & small didn’t pull that idea out of their ass, they just took the companies at their word. These outfits present themselves as platforms of free speech, hide words like “hate speech” in the terms of use (words that are either undefined or vaguely defined), and then use “terms of use violations” to get rid of content with which they disagree.
Case law, both civil and criminal, is full of examples of companies presenting themselves to the public one way while doing something entirely different. Citations can be found in legal encyclopedias under the heading “Fraud”. All restaurants are legally entitled to serve meat, there’s no law against that. But if they serve meat while billing themselves as a vegan restaurant, they should not be surprised by lawsuits, savage Yelp reviews, and crowds of gaunt, pasty hippies protesting outside their doors. If YouTube wants to be a progressive video-hosting platform, that’s perfectly fine but let them state it openly rather than claiming the mantle of free expression for all.

Argument III: Get the Spirit

While, as previously stated, the First Amendment applies only to the federal government, there is such a thing as the spirit of free speech which we should all respect. It’s one thing to have codes of conduct to promote decorum and harmony in the workplace, but someone losing their job for an opinion on the cause-du-jour that is incorrect by the left’s ever-shifting standards is entirely different. banning real threats of violence and illegal activity is one thing, Twitter shadow-banning Scott Adams because he was predicting Trump’s victory and effectively explaining why is another (also, a terrible PR decision as Scott Adams has a pretty big platform to call them out). Even the left should be alarmed by this for no other reason than the practical concern that an ever-shifting standard means that no one is entirely safe. One day you could be a progressive in good standing, the next your picture is on the front page of BuzzFeed as the newest Emmanuel Goldstein.
Further, a free marketplace of ideas is to everyone’s benefit. An open society results in dynamism, growth, and prosperity while a closed society that bans “incorrect” thoughts and speech results in stagnation (see Margaret Thatcher’s 1977 interview on Firing Line in which she predicts the fall of the Soviet Union for this very reason). More voices: we all win, when someone is silenced (by a government or a private company): we all lose. When someone is banned from Twitter for saying that a mannish female celebrity looks like a man, we all lose even if she’s your “totes fave”. When a YouTuber has his videos removed or demonetized because it’s a gun channel and the Silicon Valley beta-boys at Google think guns are icky, we all lose even if guns aren’t your thing. And just like the free market weeds out bad products in favor of the good, the marketplace of ideas weeds out bad ideas in favor of the good (which is probably why the left hates it so much). The more opportunities that a Nazi (a real Nazi, not a “literally Hitler”) has to express their ideas, the more people will see them and think “these people are fucking insane.” Silencing them results in creating curiosity about and even sympathy towards them.
Finally, a practical argument in favor of the free, open marketplace of ideas is that it prevents radicalization. “Those who make peaceful revolution impossible make violent revolution inevitable,” as someone the left claims to like once said. Preventing someone from speaking his mind and/or telling them that their thoughts and opinions are so deplorable that they can’t be uttered creates resentment. The larger the universe of unapproved speech, the larger the population of the resentful. If the population of the disenfranchised and resentful reaches a critical mass, a worst case scenario is a psychopathic huckster like Lenin or Hitler harnesses them to gain power (best case scenario is that they just piss away their lives in misery and dejection and the soul of the society dies). “Free speech acts as a pressure valve” is an old chestnut, but it’s an old chestnut for a reason.
TL:DR summation: more voices good for all, fewer voices bad for all but an elite few, social media companies are censoring frauds and those who defend them are jerkoffs who need to shut their ignorant cockholsters.