To Whom Have We Outsourced Our Freedom of Speech? [with comment by Paul]


The London Times reported today that Mark Zuckerberg turned to Nick Clegg to decide how to handle Facebook’s politically-motivated banning of President Trump:

Mark Zuckerberg told Facebook executives that he would defer to Nick Clegg on how to handle Donald Trump’s ban.

The Facebook chief executive is understood to have let the former deputy prime minister take the lead on whether an independent panel should decide if and when the former US president should be allowed back on its platform. …

Zuckerberg, 36, defended the decision in a post on Facebook the next day, which had been drafted by Clegg, 54, the night before.

Interesting. So who is Nick Clegg? Sir Nicholas William Peter Clegg is:

…the Vice-President for Global Affairs and Communications at Facebook, having previously served as Deputy Prime Minister of the United Kingdom from 2010 to 2015 and as Leader of the Liberal Democrats from 2007 to 2015.

That would be up until the time his party pretty much ceased to exist.

He was Member of Parliament for Sheffield Hallam from 2005 to 2017. An “Orange Book” liberal, he has been associated with both socially liberal and economically liberal policies.

Clegg was also a member of the European Parliament from 1999 to 2004, and was a prominent opponent of Brexit.

To be fair, Clegg is not a far-leftist by European standards. Still, one wonders whether George III is somewhere feeling vindicated. The descendants of those troublesome colonists are now outsourcing their ability to speak freely on their most influential platform to Sir Nicholas William Peter Clegg, a Knight Bachelor of the United Kingdom. Is this what the Founders had in mind?

Clegg pressed Mark Zuckerberg to have the decision to continue banning Donald Trump made by Facebook’s independent oversight board. As we all know, that board ruled yesterday that Facebook’s ban on President Trump can continue for the next six months.

So who is on the independent board? It includes a few free speech advocates, like my friend Michael McConnell, a professor at Stanford Law School. But most of the board’s 20 members are not Americans, and most have liberal pedigrees. For example:

…a Colombian attorney who was the Special Rapporteur for Freedom of Expression of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights of the Organization of American States from 2008 to 2014; the first woman prime minister of Denmark; a dual Ghanaian and South African citizen; a human rights advocate who works on women’s rights; an Indonesian journalist; [a] former national communications regulator in Taiwan; a Pakistani lawyer and internet activist; previously chief operating officer of Human Rights Watch, executive director of Amnesty International USA; a Yemeni human rights activist and journalist; a Kenyan lawyer and human rights activist; the vice chancellor of the National Law School of India University; a Brazilian academic and lawyer; a lawyer and the executive director of Internet Sans Frontieres, a digital rights organization based in France; a former director general of the Israeli Ministry of Justice; a British journalist who was the editor-in-chief of the Guardian newspaper; a Hungarian legal academic and former judge at the European Court of Human Rights; an associate law professor at Queensland University of Technology in Australia.

So a large majority of Facebook’s censorship board are not Americans. Facebook no doubt would defend this fact aggressively: Facebook is a global company, not just American, and most people are not Americans. So Facebook’s independent censorship board represents the world, not the U.S.

That is understandable, perhaps. But the world is not committed to free speech. In most countries, free speech is not even an ideal, let alone a reality. Here in the U.S., freedom of speech is enshrined in our Constitution and is deeply embedded in our culture and our values.

But we are a minority. In most of the world, people who say things unfavorable to those in power are shot, imprisoned or worse. That is, I suspect, what the Democrats would like to see in our country, but for the time being, at least, our defense of freedom makes us an outlier.

Most Americans naively consider the Silicon Valley tech giants to be American companies, but they are not. They are global, and their standing with the Chinese Communist Party is almost certainly more significant to them than their standing with America’s GOP. If you find that surprising, consider the National Basketball Association.

Americans depend on companies like Facebook and Twitter to exercise their constitutional right of free speech. But those companies are not bound by the First Amendment, and are not committed to unfettered discourse. They are global corporations, most of whose users and regulators take it for granted that those in power determine what can safely be expressed. And the tech companies themselves have freely acknowledged biases that align with the demands of the Chinese Communists and others with whom they do a very lucrative business.

So: we have effectively outsourced our freedom of speech to companies that are not American, and that are not committed to American concepts of freedom. This is a major problem. I have written a number of times about what to do about it, e.g. here. For now, let us simply note that Facebook, for one, has outsourced Americans’ freedom of speech to residents of other countries.

PAUL ADDS: As things stand now, Facebook can ban whomever it wishes to. But it purports to respect the right of free speech, and the board it established is intended to demonstrate a decent regard for that right.

Now, however, a former U.S. president and the de facto leader of one of America’s two major parties is banned from Facebook. This is unconscionable, in my view.

The board’s finding that Trump’s indefinite suspension has no basis in Facebook’s stated policies should also be noted. The board found that Facebook “appl[ied] a vague, standardless penalty” to Trump “and then referr[ed] this case to the board to resolve.”

If Trump was penalized based on a vague and standardless decision, the penalty should be lifted. A decent regard for free speech requires no less.

The presumption should always run in favor of speech. Thus, until such time as Facebook has a meaningful standard in place that covers Trump’s case, it shouldn’t ban his speech.

Unfortunately, Facebook isn’t concerned with promoting free speech. It’s concerned with promoting Democrats. That’s why it curtailed speech about the Hunter Biden scandal — a story in a major newspaper about the scandal — during the 2020 campaign, and why it bans Donald Trump.



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