by Sepha Pagdanganan
The recent banning of Alex Jones from the holy trinity of tech companies – the Father facebook, the Son YouTube, and the Spirit Apple – has caused quite a stir in the internet political sphere. For those of you fortunate enough not spend every waking moment glued to your computer screen in your parents’ basement, allow me to give a quick recap of what transpired. Alex Jones (whose other pseudonyms include ‘harbinger of truth’ or ‘alien meme guy of politics’ depending on who you talk to) was recently banned from Facebook, YouTube, Apple, and a bunch of other tech companies for his rather, er, shall I say, unique outlook on the world, to put it mildly. But love or hate him, the question raised by this banning has nothing to do with his character or his content, and everything to do with freedom versus regulation. And I’m not talking about Alex Jones’ freedom of speech being regulated. I’m talking about the freedom of these tech companies to run their businesses without regulation. And as the most Libertarian person I know who loathes the three R’s (The three R’s being rules, regulations, and roads. Yes, all Libertarians hate roads. Roads are, like, just the worst) and who is fond of politely flashing her middle finger at the government (everyone knows that it is for this purpose the good Lord created middle fingers) it pains me to say that for once, I am for regulation. There, I said it. Ayn Rand, forgive me my trespass.
Oh dear, she looks angry.
The main crux I have regarding some people on both far ends of the political spectrum (left and right) and even some of the more moderate ones is that they take everything to the extreme. It baffles me how, when I say that although I believe in freedom of speech, such can be limited by law as long as it is not unconstitutional, some people start frothing in the mouth like a puppy with rabies and getting a seizure if I were Stalin. The thing is, all rights have limits. Rights are limited when they encroach on other people’s rights. And these limits are defined by law.
For example, we have the right to liberty, but when someone breaks the law or commits a crime, that right is taken away and the offender is placed in prison. Even the right to life is limited — some states have the death penalty. The right to freedom of speech has a limit, and that is defined by law as when “it incites to violence.” The problem with the SJW movement’s limit to freedom of speech is that it isn’t a reasonable limit. Inciting to violence is a reasonable limit, because violence encroaches on another person’s rights, namely the right to life. I could talk extensively about this, but I haven’t the time and the article space to, so if you are interested in reading more about this, I suggest you check out Supreme Court cases on this matter. Hate speech is not a reasonable limit to freedom of speech because no other right is encroached. There is no right to not be offended. There is no right to not hear mean things about yourself. So once you understand that rights can be limited, and that they are not absolute, the next question is this; would regulating these tech companies be a reasonable limit to the freedom of these companies to conduct business?
For me to answer this question, I will first look at status quo and then give the reason behind the status quo. I shall delve into the status quo regarding lawyers. While the right to pursue happiness is enshrined in the preamble of the American Constitution, this does not mean that anyone can pursue anything that makes him happy. Someone may wish to be a lawyer, for example, and that becoming a lawyer would be the fulfillment of his happiness. But then, that person does not pass the bar. He cannot practice law. Does he not have the right to choose to be a lawyer? Why does the state have the right to limit this choice and impose a bar in order for him to practice law? Isn’t that an unfair regulation of the state? In my country, The Philippines, we have what we call the IBP or “The Integrated Bar of The Philippines” which regulates the conduct of lawyers. We can’t practice law without being a member of the IBP. Doesn’t this go against our freedom? The answer to all these questions lie in the nature of the legal profession. It is the answer as to why the legal profession is highly regulated whereas the profession of, let’s say, computer programming, is not. And that is because there is immense power in the legal profession. There’s a reason why lawyers are inherently a cocky despicable bunch (and as a future lawyer myself, I’ve already begun acquiring these qualities, much to the extreme annoyance of my friends). And the reason is the profession gives power, more so then most professions. Lawyers know the intricacies of the law and this knowledge can spell the difference between a man going free and a man on death row. And it is due to the fact that the legal profession gives power that it is highly regulated because power corrupts. Power needs to be kept in check, because unchecked power leads to abuse. This is why the American government has a system of checks and balances to make sure that power is regulated. Just the same way certain professions are regulated, I believe that certain businesses who wield incredible power should be regulated as well only to prevent abuse.
Let’s look at what happens when businesses in a position of power are left to do what they will without regulation. We don’t have to look too far back. The financial crisis of 2008 is a perfect scenario. The financial business giants, in a position of tremendous power, abused this power. There was a lack of regulation which allowed them to trick consumers and sell products that were not in existence, leading to a collapse in the economy. To learn more about this, I suggest an interesting documentary called “Inside Job.” It’s this power that makes this particular situation very different from that of the Christian baker who refused his labor. The Christian baker was in no position of power. The gay couple could have easily gone to another place to have their cake made. And even, let’s say, that all wedding cake bakers refused their labor (which they have a right to), it still would not be the same thing. It’s just a cake. People can come up with all sorts of mental gymnastics and long winding emotional articles to try to show why a cake in a wedding is that important but, really, it isn’t. No one is going to die or have their lives drastically affected by not having cake in their wedding. In fact, you can just make the cake yourself. But those in the financial industry have the power of ruining people’s lives, destroying people’s hard earned savings, and driving people into poverty. The financial business deals with money. Money is power. Baking a cake does not give power (unless you try to poison someone or sell expired food, but there are already laws in place regarding that)
Just as the financial business deals with money, social media platforms such as Facebook and Youtube deal with something different, but just as deadly; influence. There is no denying that Facebook and Youtube both have tremendous reach. This reach allows them to spread their ideas to the public. And this puts them in a position of power for, as Jim Morrison once said “whoever controls the media, controls the mind”. I have been reading comments on the internet saying that people should just migrate to Minds or Gab. They are missing the point. As of now, Minds and Gab do not have the reach and therefore the influence that Facebook and Youtube have. These two tech giants have immense power in their hands. And what do they chose to do with such power? The chose to curtain someone’s freedom of speech simply because they do not agree with it. They have the influence, and so they choose only to push one side of the story and to silence the other side. Anyone who disagrees with them gets the ban hammer. If that isn’t abuse of power, I don’t know what is.
But should the government get involved? Would it be government overreach? Now, everyone knows this often quoted phrase: “We hold these Truths to be self-evident, that all Men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness.” What most people fail to quote is the second part, which states that “That to secure these Rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just Powers from the Consent of the Governed, that whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these Ends it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its Foundation on such Principles, and organizing its Powers in such Form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness.” The role of the government, then, is to secure these rights. It is not government overreach when the government is performing it’s function. People of different political beliefs have the right to freedom of speech. And platforms such as Facebook and YouTube, with their massive reach, have the power to shut voices that do not agree with them, and in so doing, affect the way the masses think. Again, if this is not an abuse of power, I don’t know what is.
To sum it all up, I believe that rights can be limited when these rights are abused to infringe upon the rights of others. When companies are in a position of power, this power may be abused to infringe on the rights of others and thus this power needs to be regulated. The government should regulate it as it is the government’s task to protect the rights of its citizens.
But, you may say, who decides if a certain business is in power or not? When can something be said to be a reasonable limit to rights? I do believe there should be standards regarding this, as giving anyone an arbitrary discretion as to what constitutes as power is also open to abuse, but that is an article for another time. For now, those are my thoughts on the matter. If you made it this far to the article without skipping, I am flattered and at the same time surprised that you don’t have anything else better to do with your life. If you would like to waste anymore of your precious time, I would love to read any comments from you guys regarding my opinion and perhaps learn something new or look at the matter from a different angle. Do you agree with my position? Or am I some kind of regulating Karl Marx? Should I get the helicopter ride? Let me know in the comments.