Note: The following is the first of two articles where Lone Conservative contributors give their opposing thoughts on former President Trump’s social media lawsuit. Please be sure to check the homepage for the opposite viewpoint which will be posted later today.
Former President Trump has announced that he will be partnering with the America First Policy Institute to file a class action suit against Facebook, Twitter, and Google that will take aim at Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act. Trump accused the tech oligarchies of being “government actors” and seeks to have his accounts reinstated.
There are problems with the lawsuit and many legal experts are skeptical about Trump’s chances of victory. While Trump’s legal reasoning may be flawed, his claim that the tech giants are state actors is valid. State action constitutes either a relationship between private party actions and the government’s objective, or a private party performing a traditional government role. If private parties are government actors, then they have constitutional obligations.
Google gave the government sweeping access to the private location data of Android smartphone users. They claimed it was to track the spread of the coronavirus. Google has also partnered with the NSA. In 2015, President Obama signed the Cybersecurity Information Sharing Act (CISA) into law. It gave companies the power to monitor their users and share “cyber threat indicators” with the government. The information gathered would be pooled into government databases that the CIA, FBI, and NSA could access.
Nicholas Pacilio, Twitter’s senior communications manager and Kamala Harris’s former press secretary, deleted a Trump campaign video that showed President Trump claiming children are “almost immune” from Covid-19. This was labeled “misinformation” even though it is correct. Facebook and Twitter also censored a New York Post story about then-candidate Biden’s son, Hunter, and his ties to foreign business interests.
Twitter has relentlessly censored media outlets, medical professionals, and scientists who dared question the dominant Covid-19 narrative. This may be due to Twitter’s collaboration with the AI startup Dataminr. Twitter informed TechCrunch that “Dataminr uses public Tweets to sell breaking news alerts to… government agencies such as the World Health Organization, for non-surveillance purposes.” Dataminr’s relationship to the WHO likely played a role in Twitter’s censorship.
Facebook is no different. CEO Mark Zuckerberg worked with Dr. Fauci to distribute state-approved Covid-19 information. According to Fauci’s March 2020 emails, Zuckerberg invited him to work on the “Coronavirus Information Hub.” This was a way to disperse “authoritative information” about the coronavirus. Facebook censored anything that state officials considered inaccurate, specifically information about the Covid-19 vaccines.
Press Secretary Jen Psaki said on Thursday that the White House would be working with social media companies to censor Covid-19 ‘disinformation.’ Psaki said, “We’re flagging problematic posts for Facebook that spread disinformation.” Facebook is collaborating with the state to censor speech that threatens the Biden administration’s agenda. Tech monopolies can no longer be viewed as traditional private companies.
In Marsh v. Alabama, a company-owned town outlawed the distribution of certain religious literature. The Supreme Court ruled that when private parties perform a government function, they are obligated to uphold constitutional rights. Big Tech regulates speech in the public square, thus performing a traditional government role.
By passing Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act and thus protecting Big Tech from civil liability, Congress inadvertently authorized private parties to regulate speech. Conservative economist Milton Friedman wrote in Free to Choose that monopolies rarely occur without the help of the government. Section 230 has granted U.S. tech companies power beyond measure. Google controls around 90 percent of the globe’s online search activity, and Twitter has a monopoly on the “instant news business.”
The claim that these are simply private companies utilizing their First Amendment rights has been rendered obsolete. Big Tech is immune to liabilities unlike other First Amendment actors, such as newspapers. Section 230 was originally enshrined into law for a reasonable purpose: to protect internet platforms from liability so they could censor content that would be harmful or inappropriate for children. It was also intended to incentivize companies to provide a platform for ideological diversity. Section 230 no longer serves that function when corporations censor viewpoints that violate an approved establishment narrative.
Section 230 acts as an impenetrable shield for some of the most powerful corporations on the planet. Google, Facebook, and Twitter selectively restrict information. Facebook routinely “fact-checked” posts about Covid-19. Google, Facebook, and Twitter have prohibited board-certified physicians from discussing the benefits of hydroxychloroquine and alternative methods of preventing the spread of the virus.
Trump’s lawsuit may seem impractical, but it will draw attention to something important: tech conglomerates are controlling the political discourse and have an unprecedented amount of power. There is nothing conservative or principled about letting these corporations turn America into a technocracy. Section 230 needs to be reformed so that the interpretation of Big Tech’s liability protections is less broad. Only then will there be a foreseeable path to free speech in the public square.
The views expressed in this article are the opinion of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Lone Conservative staff.