Updated: Aug 15, 2019
A serious problem has developed that is beginning to directly threaten free speech in the United States. Before the era of the internet and social media, we considered government the greatest potential threat to free speech in the public square. That is no longer the case. The public square used to be a physical place to which people would travel to gather, communicate, and conduct business. Now it is the internet because of its utility, accessibility, and popularity, particularly Google and social media sites like Facebook and Twitter. They are owned and controlled by private companies with little to no government protection of individual free speech, which is the foundation of a free society.
In theory, there should be no problem with a private company creating the rules by which those who utilize its facilities conduct themselves. As Americans, we believe in private ownership and control of private business. However, as these websites have become so large and critical to commerce, they have become public space. Anything posted on one of these websites is public communication unless special settings or features are used to make communication private. However, even private communication is monitored and controlled by the owners of these sites.
Tech companies have created websites or “land” that we connect to or “visit” through the internet. They control that land and the people on it the way a government would control a country. In essence, they have created countries that operate within countries, or even beyond country. The problem is that these tech company “governments” have usurped U.S. governmental authority within the U.S. in what is tantamount to a massive workaround. They are exploiting the technicality that they are privately owned and have been given special privileges due to their initial founding as mere platforms.
As they have transitioned from simple platforms into discriminating publishers, they have prevented the exercise of free speech in the public square. Their manipulation has risen to the level of illegality under U.S. law. At its heart, the U.S. is a nationwide private contract, known as the Constitution, between and among all U.S. citizens, who we enter into the contract through citizenship. This contract enumerates and implies basic rights and freedoms that create the framework for our nation. Without rights and freedoms, such as free speech, we would be just like any other nation, subject to the whims of autocratic rulers or totalitarian regimes that sometimes allow their people freedom and sometimes do not. Those rights and freedoms are why we have been so successful and are the envy of the world.