Free Speech on Trial: Can the Government Force Private Companies to Censor Users?

by | Mar 17, 2024

The Supreme Court will hear arguments in Murthy v. Missouri concerning whether the government can force or nudge private companies to censor users on behalf of regime priorities.

In a lifetime of observing policy controversies and court cases, we’ve never witnessed anything as crucial to the future of the idea of freedom itself compared with what will transpire on March 18, 2024. On that day, the Supreme Court will hear arguments in Murthy v. Missouri concerning whether the government can force or nudge private companies to censor users on behalf of regime priorities.

The evidence that they have been doing so is overwhelming. That’s why the 5th Circuit issued an emergency injunction to stop the practice on grounds that it is inconsistent with the First Amendment of the US Constitution. The censorship industrial complex is working right now and hourly to delete free speech in America. That injunction was stayed pending a review by the highest court.

The case itself hasn’t even gone to court. This decision is only about the injunction itself, which was issued based on the alarming results of discovery alone. Essentially, the lower court is screaming “This must stop.” The Supreme Court is trying to assess whether the violations of liberty are extreme enough to justify a pre-trial intervention now.

A positive ruling for the plaintiffs doesn’t solve every problem but at least it will mean that freedom still stands a chance in this country. A ruling for the defense, which is essentially the government itself, will give license to every federal agency – including those that operate in secret like the FBI and CIA – to threaten every social media and media company in this country to delete any and all content that runs contrary to the approved narrative.

There will be celebration in Washington if this happens. On the other hand, there will be tears if the court decides for the defense. It could be that the court will take an in-between position, refusing to let the injunction go ahead and promising some possible decision at a later date pending trial. That would be a disaster because it could mean three or more years of full censorship pending an appeal of whatever the outcome of the trial is.

Free speech is everything. If we don’t have that, we have nothing and freedom is toast. All other problems pale in comparison. There are plenty of them, from healthcare to immigration but if we don’t have free speech, we cannot get the truth out about any of them. The censorship industrial complex is wholly dedicated to making sure that we have no debates at all and that dissident voices are not even heard.

As it is, Google, Microsoft, and Facebook – and many more besides – already heavily restrict speech. They work in cooperation with government and those tasked by government to do elite bidding. We know this for a fact.

When Elon Musk took over Twitter, he discovered a vast censorship machine operating on behalf of the FBI and other agencies. Millions of posts were being taken down along with users. He has done his best to rip out the guts of this borg. Doing so entirely changed the character of the site.

It became useful again.

Not even the scale of the problem is widely understood. Usually people say that free speech is necessary to protect minority opinions. In this case, the numbers don’t matter to the censors. You could have 90% of users trying to advance an idea and still have it censored. This is what the old Twitter did. It was daily and hourly attacking the company’s user base. This was their job, no matter how much it contradicts the whole point of social media.

Brownstone is predictably throttled by all these companies but it is not just about us. It is about everyone who disagrees with the Davos “Great Reset” agenda. This could pertain to EVs, gender transitions, lockdowns, immigration, or anything else. Even now, the Google Artificial Intelligence engine extols the glories of lockdowns, masking, and mass injections while completely ignoring contrary science. This is how they want things to be. Google’s search engine is no better. It might as well be a federal agency.

The Justices hearing the case will be in an awkward position. My guess is that none of them even know that this was going on to the extent it is. They will likely be shocked when they look at the evidence proving that there is a trillion-dollar industry in full operation that has massively distorted the public mind. Every federal agency is involved, deeply embedded in the operations of all media companies and digital technology, which in turn requires universal surveillance and persecution of contrary voices.

Until just a few years ago, this entire industry – which involves federal agencies, universities, nonprofits, shadow companies, bogus fact-checks, and every manner of spook-operated front companies – was not known to exist. Now that we know, we are shocked by the extent of it. It has invaded the whole of our lives to the point that we cannot tell the real news from that which is fed to us by intelligence agencies. Even worse, we’ve come to expect that most of what passes for approved opinion is flat-out false.

The Justices will discover this truth. They will likely be astonished. But they will also be taken aback by how integral to our lives it has become. As it turns out, the federal government for nearly a decade has placed a very high priority on curating the public mind, lying at every turn for its own benefit and that of its industrial partners.

Everyone in the old Soviet Union knew for sure that Pravda spoke for the Communist Party. But do people understand that their Google search results and Facebook timelines are no better? It’s not clear whether and to what extent people do understand this but it is our reality.

Will the Justices really be willing to pull the plug on the entire machinery? Doing that would be more disruptive of an established interest group than anything the court has done in many years or even ever. It would fundamentally change the way our technologies work. It would be devastating to federal agencies. Policing such a new system called free speech would be another matter entirely. It would mean that thousands of people would suddenly have nothing to do. That would be wonderful, but would it happen?

As I say, censorship is now an entire global industry. It involves the world’s most powerful foundations, governments, universities, and influencers. It seems like everyone wants a part in crushing what they called “disinformation,” “misinformation,” and “malinformation,” which is true information that they don’t want out. We are surrounded by this machinery of control and yet most people have no clue.

Every federal agency at this point has taken it upon themselves to cajole every information provider into rigging the system so that only one perspective gets out. This has a massive impact on public opinions.

As an example, four years ago, I wrote an article that accidentally made it through the censors and I watched as millions read my piece. Even now, I hear about it at cocktail parties coming from total strangers who don’t know that I’m the author. Nothing like that has happened since that magical day. Most of my writing goes into a dark hole, and this is despite writing daily for the 4th largest newspaper and having access to a huge public forum at Brownstone. People without such access do not stand a chance. Their posts on Facebook are disappeared the instant they post, while YouTube slams their content as contrary to community standards, with no other explanation.

Self-censorship has become the habitual practice of the intellectual class. Otherwise you only beat your head up against the wall and make yourself a target. Minute-by-minute in real time, public opinion is being shaped by this wicked industry, which dramatically distorts political outcomes.

As I say, this is surely the most important issue we face. A decision by the Supreme Court to let this go on – seeing no real issue here – will lead straight to our doom and the death of freedom itself.

There’s an additional problem that is very serious. These days, there is a massive race on to program censorship into the algorithms themselves so that no one is actually doing it, so that there cannot be any real defendants in a case against them. AI will soon be running everything so that Google and Facebook etc can simply say that their machine learning is doing the dirty work.

Perhaps one of the reasons AI has hit us with such a rush is precisely because of this case before the court. The deep state and its industrial partners are not going to give up easily. Everything depends on their victory over free speech, so far as they are concerned.

This is very worrisome, which is why one should hope for a sweeping statement by the Supreme Court that reaffirms the fundamental American commitment to have government completely out of the business of manipulating public opinion through curating what information you see and read and what you do not see and read.

It’s tragic that such a fundamental human right should so heavily depend on the majority decision of this one body. It’s not supposed to work this way. The First Amendment is supposed to be law but these days, the government has built an entire empire around the idea that it simply does not matter. The job of the Supreme Court is to remind our overlords that the people are not merely putty in the hands of deep state agents. We have fundamental rights that cannot be abridged.

There is a rally scheduled outside the court on March 18th, with many speakers making themselves available to the press. Note the sponsoring organizations: these are the freedom fighters in America today. You are welcome to join us.

It won’t sway the court, of course. And the crowds will surely be thinner than they otherwise would be given how much success the censorship industry already enjoys. Still, it is worth a shot.

Truly, we should all shudder to think of the future of American freedom in absence of a decisive statement by the court on behalf of the basic liberty the Framers intended be protected for everyone.

Jeffrey A. Tucker is Founder and President of the Brownstone Institute and the author of many thousands of articles in the scholarly and popular press and ten books in 5 languages, including Liberty or Lockdown. He is also the editor of The Best of Mises. He speaks widely on topics of economics, technology, social philosophy, and culture. Follow him at @jeffreyatucker .

The views expressed above represent those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of the editors and publishers of Capitalism Magazine. Capitalism Magazine sometimes publishes articles we disagree with because we think the article provides information, or a contrasting point of view, that may be of value to our readers.

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