Are Tech Companies Becoming Big Brother?

Liberal groups want tech companies to regulate internet speech, and Google might be willing to do it. Two recent documents, one from the tech giant and one from a coalition of liberal advocacy organizations, call for a lower free speech standard and the rise of biased, self-deputized speech police. Although independently drafted, the documents share the same faulty premise that tech companies must protect online users from speech that hurts.

Change the Terms, the liberal coalition, has offered to ferret out “hate speech.” Cloaked as a bid to purge neo-Nazis and white supremacists from internet platforms, the group admonishes tech companies to “combat hate activities while protecting minority voices.” Its members include the Southern Poverty Law Center and the Center for American Progress.

The SPLC regularly designates Christian organizations as “hate groups” because of their support for Biblical marriage. Its “hate map” led a lone gunman in 2013 to the Family Research Council lobby in Washington, D.C., where he shot and injured a security guard. In April, the Center for American Progress said the Trump administration’s religious liberty guidance to the Department of Justice “allows religious beliefs to be used as a weapon against minority groups.” With their blacklist of “hate groups” in hand, Change the Terms is a fox offering to guard tech companies’ hen houses.

In The Good Censor, an internal Google document published in March and leaked Oct. 9 to Breitbart, Google also indicated that freedom to speak online must be balanced with the “collective wellbeing [and] the prevention of harm.” Even its title indicates censorship is up for discussion. With scant constitutional perspective (only four of the 28 people cited as references were American), the document provided nine vague remedies for combating online hate, including “be consistent, transparent, responsive, and empowering.”

Google offered little advice for sustaining free speech in nations with restrictive laws. Just last month, the European Court of Human Rights, the highest EU court, upheld the conviction of an Austrian woman on blasphemy charges. Critics worry the Oct. 25 ruling establishes a tacit blasphemy law throughout the European Union. Two days later, Irish citizens voted to abolish their nation’s blasphemy law.

One of Google’s sources included an anthropologist from Germany, home to Europe’s most strident internet speech laws. Enacted Jan. 1, the Network Enforcement Law gives tech companies 24 hours to assess and remove “obviously illegal” sites or face huge fines, according to Paul Coleman, executive director of ADF International in Vienna, Alliance Defending Freedom’s global branch.

“As with other attempts to regulate speech, [The Good Censor] is built on a premise that is unstable, which is that we can fairly and accurately control speech,” Coleman told me, adding that Google and other tech companies are clearly adopting “the idea that someone gets to decide what can be said and what can’t be said. And they happen to be the person who gets to decide.”

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SOURCE: WORLD Magazine, Bonnie Pritchett