Six Principles for State Legislators Seeking to Protect Free Speech on Social Media Platforms

Published February 5, 2021

Political free speech in the United States is under attack. Tech media giants who own and control virtually all social media platforms available to Americans are working together to silence groups with whom they do not agree. 

In just the past year, large, multi-billion-dollar, multinational corporations—including Apple, Amazon, Facebook, Google, and Twitter—prevented a sitting president from communicating directly with the American people. Members of Congress have been banned from communicating with their constituents. Newspapers were stopped from providing important reports about election topics. And perhaps worst of all, everyday Americans have regularly been blocked from sharing their own political views with friends and family on popular social media platforms.

Confronted with these assaults on speech, the founders of Parler listened to big-tech apologists who endlessly told conservatives, “If you don’t like it, you can go build your own platform,” and built their own social media business. But after experiencing monumental growth by promising to be a bastion for free speech, big-tech companies crushed Parler, shutting the entire platform down. As of this writing, it remains unclear whether Parler will return.

When Congress passed the Communications Decency Act (CDA) in 1996, which created the now infamous Section 230 statute that big-tech companies use as a justification to silence speech, America’s powerful big-tech cartel did not exist. The internet was much more democratized than it is today. 

At the time Congress passed CDA, it explicitly found that the internet played a crucial role in empowering people to share their views without censorship, including political views. Congress also made clear that it believed users should control for themselves the information they do and do not wish to receive and share. In fact, Congress explicitly stated that Section 230 was designed to preserve open political discourse and to encourage internet platforms to continue providing uncensored political speech—not to suppress it. 

However, the rise of the present big-tech cartel has destroyed the internet as it existed in 1996. Even those who have long been defenders of giving companies great leeway in determining how they control their businesses and property, including libertarian icon Ron Paul, are now warning against, in Paul’s words, the “social media purges” conducted by large technology corporations.

Paul has rightfully said these “purges” are “shocking and chilling,” and that a nefarious marriage between massive tech companies and government has formed that regularly restricts political speech and suppresses dissent. 

“Those who continue to argue that the social media companies are purely private ventures acting independent of US government interests are ignoring reality,” Paul said.

Free speech is the central tenet of any representative form of government, and it is far too important to allow a cartel of multinational corporations to attack and restrict it while intellectuals discuss and debate how market forces might somehow, someday, some way find a strategy to penetrate the government-protected tech cartel that now operates in a system that is anything but a free market. The situation has been made even more difficult because government works hand-in-hand with the tech cartel, grants market-inhibiting advantages and protections through corporate law, and provides additional market-inhibiting protections through the misapplication of Section 230. 

Currently, the internet is a ubiquitous and extremely powerful means of shaping and potentially repressing free speech, political discourse, individual rights, the outcomes of elections, and a host of other important political activities. Multinational tech giants currently block Americans from utilizing the internet to discuss many important topics, including irregularities in election vote-counting, COVID-19 medications that could save thousands of lives, and self-contradictory statements issued by the World Health Organization.

The Heartland Institute believes in finding and promoting free-market solutions to social and economic problems. That means that in the vast majority of cases, we believe the fewer regulations and restraints on businesses, the better. Everyone

prospers in a truly free-market system. However, tech giants like Amazon, Facebook, and Google are not the products of a free market. They arose in large part because of market-corrupting government favoritism and legal protections, and they have exploited those advantages to suppress political free speech. When such a cartel of multinational corporations works in concert to suppress individual rights, champions of free speech and human rights must avail themselves of all means advisable and necessary to protect Americans’ most basic liberties