Tech Censorship

Let’s Back Up A Sec And Ask Why Free Speech Actually Matters

By Caitlin Johnstone

The Joe Rogan/Spotify controversy is still going on and has only gotten more vitriolic and intense. Claims that Spotify must walk away from its $200 million contract with the world’s most popular podcaster for promoting vaccine misinformation have sparked a lot of debates about freedom of speech, online censorship, what exactly those terms mean, and whether they can be correctly applied to the practice of Silicon Valley deplatforming.

When confronted with accusations of quashing free speech and promoting censorship, those who support online deplatforming in this or that situation will often respond with lines like “It’s not censorship, it’s just a private company enforcing its terms of service,” or “Nobody is obligated to give you a platform,” or “Freedom of speech isn’t freedom of reach,” or by posting the famous XKCD comic which says “If you’re yelled at, boycotted, have your show cancelled, or get banned from an internet community, your free speech rights aren’t being violated. It’s just that the people listening think you’re an asshole, and they’re showing you the door.”

And of course it’s true that nobody is legally guaranteed the right to speak on an independent online platform. But even if we ignore the fact that this censorship behavior is not being driven solely by the wishes of independent corporations and is in fact happening in increasingly close coordination with the US government whose officials openly threaten Silicon Valley platforms with repercussions if they don’t regulate speech, the fact that it is technically legal for those companies to silence voices they don’t like is not a sound argument. It doesn’t prove that censorship isn’t happening or that the deplatforming is okay, it just proves that it is technically legal for those giant monopolistic platforms to do those things. A casual glance at history shows that plenty of terrible things have been done which were perfectly legal at the time.


Categories: Tech Censorship

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