More than any principle, freedom of speech is what makes America, America. Other defining characteristics exist—many extremely important as well—but once we have lost the ability to express our opinions openly, we are no longer the semblance of a democratic republic. Other principles are automatically undermined.
For some time now, this freedom has been under assault, via the cancel culture and other forms of suppression, including, lately, business censorship, most often in the name of supposed “misinformation.”
“Fact-checkers” abound to keep us on the straight and narrow of their version of “truth.” The Washington Post—the newspaper, we now know and even they finally admit, lied about Trump–Russia collusion on its front page for nearly two years—embarrassingly features one of these “fact-checkers,” doling out “Pinocchios” to one and all.
Worse yet are the social media companies. Facebook and Twitter (of Hunter Biden fame) have hundreds, maybe thousands of such censors, commonly recent graduates of our increasingly biased educational system, operating under various euphemisms and cut-outs, making sure everything is according to their Hoyle.
Facebook has chosen—in search, one supposes, of “plausible deniability”—to outsource its fact-checking.
“Fighting misinformation is an ever-evolving problem, and Facebook can’t do it alone. We rely on independent fact-checkers to review and rate the accuracy of stories through original reporting, which may include interviewing primary sources, consulting public data and conducting analyses of media, including photos and video.”
The company they have chosen for this work is “IFCN-certified.” In case you missed it, that’s the International Fact-Checking Network, which “was launched [by Poynter] in 2015 to bring together the growing community of fact-checkers around the world and advocates of factual information in the global fight against misinformation.”
Ah, those “advocates of factual information”—they always know better.
Or do they?
Enter John Stossel.
The well-known journalist had posted a video on Facebook that, in his words, “reported facts suggesting that government mismanagement probably played a bigger role in causing California’s wildfires than climate change.”
Working through a fact-checker, a group called Climate Feedback got the video branded as “false and misleading” for Facebook’s nearly 1.7 billion users.
Stossel felt he was being defamed. His claim was arguable. Many thought it was accurate. He tried to get the company to walk their branding back, but, receiving no response, ultimately sued.
The results of the suit, so far, are surprising to say the least.
Anthony Watts, who founded the world’s most popular website on climate, Watts Up With That, puts this surprising turn succinctly:
“In its response to Stossel’s defamation claim, Facebook responds on Page 2, Line 8 in the court document that Facebook cannot be sued for defamation (which is making a false and harmful assertion) because its ‘fact-checks’ are mere statements of opinion rather than factual assertions.
“Opinions are not subject to defamation claims, while false assertions of fact can be subject to defamation. The quote in Facebook’s complaint is,
“‘The labels themselves are neither false nor defamatory; to the contrary, they constitute protected opinion.’”
So there you have it. The cat’s out of the proverbial bag. According to Facebook’s own lawyers, fact-checking isn’t fact-checking. It’s opinion.
But didn’t we always know that? Isn’t Mark Zuckerberg—well, let’s be honest—a big, fat liar when he hides behind pompous pronouncements on his company’s devotion to factual accuracy, whether homegrown or outsourced?
What he is pushing is his own party line, like most of us, but he is pushing it on an audience of approximately five times the number of people who reside in the United States of America.
The “misinformation” claim is being used for propagandistic purposes on a level never seen before with terrifying consequences, both real and potential. (Think COVID.)
Attempts have been made in Congress to rein this in by toughening Section 230, a legalism that defines the degree to which companies such as Facebook (now Meta) and Google (now Alphabet) are liable.
Though well-meaning, this is misconceived and, at most, a temporary patch for a problem that is much larger, especially now that Facebook is telling us their censorship is merely the assertion of protected opinion. If true, they can censor virtually anything they wish.
At the time antitrust legislation was written, no one, with the possible exception of H.G. Wells, could have conceived of the reach of these companies. At this point, they are virtually uncontrollable.
But this very assertion that their fact-checking is actually opinion provides a possible entry point. As in the case of Stossel, these companies are intruding on, indeed actually erasing, the constitutionally protected right of free speech.
Yes, they are private companies, but should they be under these completely unforeseen circumstances with their ability to cross national borders easily, sometimes undetected, and even go into space?
Recently, it was revealed their cousin Apple made a secret deal with China to the tune of hundreds of billions of dollars and who knows what intellectual property. The latter could have tremendous national security implications. No one stopped the Cupertino, California-based company or, as far as we know, even tried.
Ultimately, the way to really prevent these American techno giants from running amuck and dominating our lives to extraordinary degrees is to break them up or turn them into public utilities open to all to express themselves. The only exceptions to this openness would be criminal behavior or pornography.
Beyond correcting the fascistic tendencies of their censorship, making social media public utilities might also help undo or ameliorate the extraordinary amounts of harm these companies have already done to our children by addicting them.
Unfortunately, it is unlikely something like this can be easily effectuated because these companies are, with Big Pharma, the biggest political donors extant. But in the end, the people have the power to get this done. It is, as always, up to us.
Meanwhile, Stossel’s lawsuit is worth watching.
Views expressed in this article are the opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Epoch Times.