Fighting Political Segregation With a Digital First Amendment

Political segregation must end just as racial segregation did.

[To learn more about the Freedom Center's recent victory over the Left's censorship attempt, and its call for a coalition across party and ideological lines to defend free speech, click here.]

Daniel Greenfield, a Shillman Journalism Fellow at the Freedom Center, is an investigative journalist and writer focusing on the radical left and Islamic terrorism

The United States has 325 million people. Facebook has 2.2 billion active users. Google is even bigger. Even a smaller company like Twitter tops the population of the United States with 335 million active users. And not even China has a bigger population than that of the biggest internet companies.

The scale of the internet dwarfs any individual nation-state and obtaining many of the traditional benefits of the nation-state, political freedom, engagement, economic opportunities, requires access through the corporate monopolies that act as the gatekeepers of their own virtual nation states.

Google, Facebook and Amazon aren’t governments, but they have a larger virtual citizenry than any government, and they control access to the marketplace of ideas, determining what ideas billions of people can express, whether they can conduct financial transactions or even exist. Technopolies have a vast sphere of control without having to offer their users any of the personal freedoms of governments.

The virtual state of the internet grew to be controlled by a handful of corporations based out of bicoastal cities, almost universally to the political left of ordinary Americans.

8.8% of tech industry founders voted for Trump, compared to 46% of voters or 56% of the country. 63% of tech bosses are Democrats while only 14% are Republicans. A majority of Americans support the death penalty. A majority of tech bosses oppose it. More Americans want to decrease immigration than increase it. But a majority of tech bosses want to increase immigration levels instead.

60% of Americans oppose socialized medicine backed by tax hikes. 82% of tech bosses support it.

The tools of political participation and engagement, the means by which politicians, political activists and the public interact, are in the hands of leftists. And they’re using them for political segregation.

In the aftermath of the 2016 election, the left blamed social media for its defeat. Campaigns were launched to scour opposition media from social media under the guise of fighting ‘fake news’, conservative organizations and activists were banned from social media and dropped by payment processors after pressure campaigns by left-wing activists denouncing them as ‘hate groups’.

All of this is practiced under the guise of fighting hate. But the definitions of hate, of racism, of hate groups, are no longer objective and universal, but partisan and subjective. Tech companies use the ratings of the Southern Poverty Law Center, a leftist group, despite its recent $3.4 million settlement. The SPLC’s maps and ratings are notorious for their sloppiness, fraudulence and ideological bias.

Outsourcing the definition of “hate” to groups like the SPLC puts the left in charge of online speech.

Two years later, these campaigns have evolved into a political segregation of half the country. This segregation hasn’t affected every ordinary conservative, but few conservative organizations, media outlets, activists and even elected officials have been left entirely untouched by it.  And it’s still early.

Citizenship traditionally confers the right to participate in the political and economic life of the country. What happens when a ‘digital citizenship’ administered by monopolistic tech companies overshadows actual citizenship to the point of making it and its traditional rights and protections irrelevant?

We are sliding toward a future in which you can vote for any candidate, but in which most voters will never know about many of the candidates running, in which you can say anything you want, but in which powerful monopolies will prevent you from being heard by anyone else, in which all candidates and organizations can solicit donations, but will still be prevented from actually receiving them.

Economic segregation, in which people are fired for their political views, is already a reality. The same companies, such as Google, accused of practicing economic segregation, as in the case of James Damore, are also accused of practicing political segregation on platforms such as YouTube.

Political segregation represents a grave civil rights crisis. It threatens to exclude half the country from being able to exercise their right of political participation. The last time segregation excluded part of the country from participating in the political and social life of the nation; the remedies included armed force and a century of civil rights acts that defined nearly everything as a public accommodation.

Racial segregation was thoroughly stamped out. Political segregation may need the same treatment.

If the political, economic and social exclusion of black people by schools, colleges and businesses was a national crisis, how can the political and economic exclusion of conservatives be anything less?

The various civil rights acts protected the rights of “all persons” to “the full and equal enjoyment of the accommodations, advantages, facilities, and privileges of inns, public conveyances on land or water, theaters, and other places of public amusement”, in the 1875 text, or in the much more comprehensive 1964 definition, "inn, hotel, motel", "restaurant, cafeteria, lunchroom, lunch counter, soda fountain", and, "gasoline station, motion picture house, theater, concert hall".

If a soda fountain can be a public accommodation that everyone is entitled to use, how can a social media platform with a user base of 2 billion be anything else? A movie theater allows you to watch one movie. While YouTube and Facebook have video views in the billions.

The American Disabilities Act expanded the concept of public accommodation further. And a battle has been raging in the courts over whether websites qualify as public accommodations. Facebook has faced its own brief brush with the issue. If we are going to launch a digital desegregation, that’s a start.

There are various options for tackling digital desegregation, from breaking up the tech and financial monopolies that have taken control of public life, to closely regulating them, from treating them as public utilities to enforcing some form of content neutrality in these online marketplaces of ideas.

Any and all of these solutions however must fight digital segregation with a digital First Amendment.

America’s open political culture can’t exist in a closed web. The First Amendment restricts government, rather than private enterprises, but when those enterprises have more power over speech than governments, when their scale is such that they can sweep away entire categories of ideas across the world with the press of a key, a digital First Amendment is needed to maintain the relevance of the Bill of Rights in a new technological era when government censorship is outsourced to corporate partners.

It’s either that or turn over the Bill of Rights to the tender mercies of the European Union, the Southern Poverty Law Center and everyone else who has been allowed to decide who can and can’t exist online.

Political desegregation should begin with speech, but not end with speech. Its solutions don’t have to be legislative, but they must protect political, social and economic rights against leftist monopolies. If America becomes a society where free speech is limited to the left, it will not matter how we got there.

Only that we did.

If few people will identify as conservatives out of fear of losing their jobs, their careers and their future, if, aside from a handful of rogue sites, conservatives are cut off from the national discourse, then the United States of America will become a one-party state. The specific identity of the set of giant unaccountable institutions, public or private, ended our freedom will be an ideological footnote.

Political segregation is not just a civil rights crisis: it’s a threat to America. We must end political segregation in its embryonic state before it becomes just another example of how we live now.

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