In the GOP war against Big Tech, Sen. Roger Wicker (MS) introduced the “Promoting Rights and Online Speech Protections to Ensure Every Consumer is Heard” (PRO-SPEECH) Act, a bill that will destroy free speech despite his claims to the contrary.
Taking down so-called “Big Tech” has become key to the 2024 presidential ambitions of Republicans such as Gov. Ron DeSantis and Sen. Josh Hawley, and it has become foundational to the strategy of Trumpist Republicans who want to take down social media companies for allegedly violating the party’s free speech rights by censoring them — even though the exact opposite is true — in their quest to regain control of Congress.
While it can be argued that social media has been engaged in far-left activity by silencing voices they don’t agree with — I’m currently experiencing that myself — their actions are not an “assault” on the First Amendment and free speech. In reality, the First Amendment protects private entities like social media companies from the very laws Republicans want to pass.
Still, this unconstitutional focus on the lie that social media companies are violating our rights to free speech is the motivation behind Wicker’s “Promoting Rights and Online Speech Protections to Ensure Every Consumer is Heard” (PRO-SPEECH) Act. If it were to become law, the damage it will do to free speech would be devastating (via Reason.com):
Wicker’s measure would ban huge swaths of online content moderation, forcing private internet forums to host speech that may currently violate their terms of service and be considered hateful, harassing, vulgar, or otherwise undesired.
The bill would also take aim at freedom of association and free markets, disallowing some tech services—such as app stores and cloud computing companies—from choosing what products they offer or what businesses they’ll contract with.
Introduced Thursday, the so-called PRO-SPEECH Act strikes at the heart of First Amendment protections, compelling companies under threat of sanction from the government to platform messages they otherwise wouldn’t.
Essentially, Wicker’s bill is “net neutrality” legislation—something that was vehemently opposed by Republicans of yore—but for online content platforms, search engines, and marketplaces rather than internet service providers. The bill would make it illegal for digital entities to block or impede access to “any lawful content, application, service, or device” that doesn’t interfere with platform functionality or “pose a data privacy or data security risk to the user.”
The bill would also explicitly ban taking action against a user based on “political affiliation.” Tech companies could no longer choose to ban, for instance, Nazi content or decline to host web forums devoted to white supremacist political groups. Web forums couldn’t choose to be exclusively for conservative users, or progressive users, or so on. (emphasis mine)
That last part about “political affiliation” is the real motivation behind the Republicans’ war against Big Tech; they don’t care about protecting free speech, they only care about protecting politicians. For example, in a bill signed by DeSantis last month, the Florida Election Commission was given authority to levy fines of $250,000 per day on social media companies that de-platform any candidate running for statewide office, and $25,000 per day for candidates running for non-statewide office.
“The big social media companies continue to abuse their market power by censoring content, suppressing certain viewpoints, and prioritizing favored political speech,” said Wicker in a press release. “My bill would put safeguards in place to preserve internet freedom, promote competition, and protect consumers from these blatantly biased practices. It is time for Congress to act to ensure the internet can be an open forum where diverse views are expressed.”
The internet already is such a forum, but that doesn’t fit the narrative now, does it?
The PRO-SPEECH Act would authorize the Federal Trade Commission to enforce the Act under Section 5 of the FTC Act, which raises another violation of the law and the Constitution.
Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act of 1996 states that, with some exceptions, internet companies are not legally responsible for content published on their sites if it was published by someone else. It also says they can’t be held liable if they take down content they or their users consider “obscene, lewd, lascivious, filthy, excessively violent, harassing, or otherwise objectional.”
Despite claims by Trumpist Republicans and faux conservatives, Big Tech companies protected by Section 230 are NOT required to be politically “neutral.” In fact, this protection applies regardless of political bias and must be so to protect our God-given rights. Still, this reality hasn’t stopped them from trying to manipulate the situation and give the government more control over internet content.
For Example, Josh Hawley’s attacks on Big Tech are similar to those found in the PRO-SPEECH Act — tackling both Section 230 and the FTC.
When Donald Trump issued an executive order last summer to “reform” Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act — an order where the only free speech is government-approved speech — Hawley introduced the Limiting Section 230 Immunity to Good Samaritans Act, a bill that limited Section 230 immunity for social media platforms. The bill was co-sponsored by Sens. Marco Rubio, Mike Braun, and Tom Cotton.
A few months prior (February 2020), Hawley proposed an overhaul of the FTC stripping the Federal Trade Commission of its independence and relocating it to the Department of Justice.
“The FTC isn’t working. It wastes time in turf wars with the DOJ, nobody is accountable for decisions, and it lacks the ‘teeth’ to get after Big Tech’s rampant abuses. Congress needs to do something about it. I’m proposing to overhaul the FTC to make it more accountable and efficient while strengthening its enforcement authority. This is about bringing the FTC into the 21st century.”
In addition to Republicans, Democrats are also willing to destroy free speech in the name of reining in Big Tech. For example, before DeSantis and Hawley made Big Tech a part of their 2024 presidential platform, Sen. Elizabeth Warren made breaking up tech companies a key part of her 2020 platform during her campaign in the Democrat presidential primaries.
The PRO-SPEECH Act and the war against Big Tech is merely an elaborate distraction used as cover to protect Republicans, not free speech. And since their focus is on politics instead of the Constitution, they are systematically destroying our God-given rights.
David Leach is the owner of the Strident Conservative. He holds people of every political stripe accountable for their failure to uphold conservative values, and he promotes those values instead of political parties.