Can Elon Musk Help Stem The Decline of Free Speech In America?
Musk's stake in Twitter gives hope for Americans who are banned from the 'public square'.
I wrote a story last year for my blog, Age Discrimination in Employment, about the AARP raking in almost a billion in “royalties” in 2019 from licensing its brand name to companies to market health insurance premium cruise vacations, cell phone service, etc.
The AARP has so much money, I wrote, that it has began giving sizeable donations to groups that have no relationship to the AARP’s stated mission of advocating for Americans aged 50 and older. For example, I noted, the AARP donated $350,000 to the Association of Young Americans in Brooklyn, NY, a group that advocates people aged 18 to 35.
The AARP gave large sums to black advocacy groups, such as Black Women’s Agenda, Inc., the Congressional Black Caucus and the National Coalition on Black Civil Participation. The AARP even gave $30,000 to a chapter of Girl Friends, Inc., described as one of the oldest associations of African American women in the United States.
The story was unassailable. It was based on the AARPs’ tax records. And it raised serious questions about why the AARP has not used its resources to address issues plaguing its constituency - older Americans - like high medical costs and age discrimination.
I knew the AARP wouldn’t like the story but I had no idea it might offend social media platforms.
After I hit the “publish” button, the views of my blog plummeted overnight from hundreds of readers to 18. Why? Who knows?
I suspect my blog was dumped into the murky world of shadow banning by social media, otherwise known as stealth banning or the practice of blocking or partially blocking a user or their content. Stealth banning is troublesome when it comes to political speech. It is also troubling when it occurs to protect the profits of a corporation.
My blog never regained its former popularity.
Social Media And First Amendment
Many argue the First Amendment applies only to speech suppressed by government. Therefore, it does not apply to users who are evicted from social media platforms. This is not settled and, even if it is true today, it may not be tomorrow.
The U.S. Supreme Court ruled in a 2017 case, Packingham v. North Carolina, that it is a “fundamental” First Amendment principle “that all persons have access to places where they can speak and listen, and then, after reflection, speak and listen once more.” The majority compared social media sites to parks and streets, which it called a “quintessential forum for the exercise of First Amendment rights.”
The Court suggested the so-called ‘public forum’ doctrine — whereby the government protects expressive activity on its property — might extend to the internet and social media.
In any event, the Court counseled “extreme caution before suggesting that the First Amendment provides scant protection for access to [the] vast networks” of the internet, “[t]he forces and directions” of which “are so new, so protean, and so far reaching that courts must be conscious that what they say today might be obsolete tomorrow.”
In Packingham, the Court ruled that North Carolina could not limit the use of social media by registered sex offenders except to prevent harm (ex., contacting minors for illicit activity).
“[T]o foreclose access to social media altogether is to prevent the user from engaging in the legitimate exercise of First Amendment rights,” stated the Court.
I hope Musk, who is a free speech advocate, will work to halt arbitrary censorship by Twitter, which banned The New York Post after it wrote an article about Hunter Biden’s notorious laptop.
Not only for myself but for a friend who is literally the last person in the world whom anyone would suspect of being a leftist radical or a right wing conservative.
Until a year ago, I regularly received Facebook posts from Jane (fake name to hide her identity), a retired elementary school teacher in her 80s. For some reason, one day it just occurred to me that I had not heard from her on Facebook for many months. I worried that she was sick or worse.
She told me that Facebook abruptly threw her off its platform for violating its rules. She said she tried everything to find out what rule was violated but could never reach a human being or to get an explanation. She was still upset about it a year later. I contacted Facebook on her behalf and I never got a response either.