FAN 207 The Changing Character of Our Free Speech Culture: Zuckerberg Calls for “More Active Role” of Government in Regulating Speech

April 3, 2019

Lawmakers often tell me we have too much power over speech, and frankly I agree. I’ve come to believe that we shouldn’t make so many important decisions about speech on our own. — Mark Zuckerberg (March 30, 2019)

When he launched Facebook, Mark Zuckerberg wanted to run his social networking platform free of government intervention other than to protect his business from liability as provided for under Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act. But when controversies swirled around Facebook and how it used its customers’ personal data and its role in Russian interference in the last presidential election, its CEO switched gears. Looking for an exit door, the once libertarian businessman recently turned to the government to do his censorial bidding. In a Washington Post op-ed Zuckerberg wrote: “I believe we need a more active role for governments and regulators. From what I’ve learned, I believe we need new regulation in four areas: harmful content, election integrity, privacy and data portability.”

klevo / Shutterstock.comklevo / Shutterstock.com

Whatever one makes of this shift in views — whether it amounts to “outsourcing censorship to the government” — one thing seems clear: It is yet another sign of the ever-changing character and culture of free speech in America. Up to now, attacks on the existing free speech culture and the laws protecting controversial forms of expression have come from the New Left, from liberals appalled by the “weaponizing of the First Amendment.” But now — TAKE NOTE — there is a new adversary: a billionaire Silicon Valley social media businessman. (The folks over at Cato have suspected Mr. Zuckerberg of being on the wrong side of the free speech divide.) This alliance of the New Left and the New Tech may portend a culture shift, one that could, in time, find its way to the once sacred domain of New York Times Co. v. Sullivan (see, e.g., here, here, and here).

It is an odd alliance (if I can call it that): The New Liberal Left thinks the First Amendment gives too much power to the powerful, whereas the New Tech wishes to turn over some of its power to the government. In the case of the former, the motivation is to seize power from the powerful; whereas, in the case of the latter, the motivation of the powerful is to yield power. Either way, the signposts are the same: Change Ahead.

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Iowa State University First Amendment Series Continues

  • Iowa State University is continuing its First Amendment Series into April according to the Iowa State University News Service, for a full list of events, click here. One event of interest includes a lecture by Simon Tam:
Simon Tam (SpeakerHub)Simon Tam (SpeakerHub)

Tam is founder of and bassist for The Slants, an Asian-American dance rock band whose band name led to a nearly eight-year-long trademark case. In 2017, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in Tam’s favor in Matal v. Tam.

Tam’s lecture, “A Name Worth Fighting For: How Being Asian Got Me in Trouble,” is at 8:15 p.m. Tuesday, April 9, in the Memorial Union Great Hall. A live musical performance follows his lecture.

Tam talks frankly about racism, his experiences as a musician and how his band unintentionally revived a longstanding battle over trademarks and racial slurs. His book, “Slanted: How Being Asian Got Me Into Trouble,” will publish this spring.

Events continue on Tuesday, April 23 with “Shut Up and Dance”:

“Shut Up and Dance” is a new program of the Free Speech Center at Middle Tennessee State University and 1 for All, a national, nonpartisan program designed to build understanding and support for the First Amendment’s five freedoms.

It tells the story of America’s social struggles and progress through pop, rock, gospel, soul, country and hip-hop and illuminates for audiences the pivotal moments when artists were told to be quiet and instead spoke up.

Find more information about ISU lectures online or by calling 515-294-9934.

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Think About It: Podcasts on Free Speech 

  • FREE SPEECH 47: With Freedom Comes Responsibility, with Ekow Yankah: “Professor Ekow Yankaw explains how we can maintain our freedom and liberty when living in society [sic] with others. How are our rights and duties interwoven in a republic? Can the government take a role in guaranteeing these rights but also enforcing these duties? Have we — in today’s America — lost the register that says that we have obligations toward others, and that being part of a republic means being bound together in a common enterprise?” 3/21/2019 Free View in iTunes
  • FREE SPEECH 46: Safe Spaces, Trigger Warnings, and Free Speech, with Alexander Tsesis: “Does allowing hate speech serve the function to get such ideas into the open where they can be defeated? How do we understand ‘trigger warnings’ and safe spaces from a free-speech perspective? Do existing legal guidelines on regulating speech work for universities? How do we balance the right to speak with the right to participate in open and robust debate? I spoke with Professor Alexander Tsesis who teaches at Loyola University’s School of Law in Chicago.” 3/13/2019 Free View in iTunes
  • FREE SPEECH 45: Staying Media-Savvy in an Age of Distrust with Pamela Newkirk: “What does it mean to be media-savvy? What is the truth in a post-factual era? How can we achieve basic media literacy in an age when telling lies has become a method to undermine our faith in facts? I spoke with Pamela Newkirk about maintaining the right kind of skepticism toward the media in an age when the independent press is under attack. Newkirk is a widely published journalist and scholar who holds an appointment as Professor in the Department of Journalism at New York University.” 3/13/2019 Free View in iTunes
  • FREE SPEECH 42: Must Columbus Fall!?? with Jack Tchen: “Should Columbus Fall? Should the statue be toppled, and should Columbus Circle be renamed while we’re at it? In 2017 New York City’s Mayor, Bill de Blasio, charged a high-profile commission with the task of determining what to do about the statue of Columbus and a few other figures that generate heated debates. Professor Jack Tchen, the author of Yellow Peril and a co-founder of New York City’s Museum of Chinese in America, talks about the controversy and how the committee responded.” 1/28/2019 Free View in iTunes

Plus many more podcasts: Go here.

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This article is part of First Amendment News, an editorially independent publication edited by Professor Ronald K. L. Collins and hosted by FIRE as part of our mission to educate the public about First Amendment issues. Opinions expressed are those of the article's author(s) and may not reflect the opinions of FIRE or of Professor Collins.