Robert Reich goes completely Orwellian in an anti-free speech screed – JONATHAN TURLEY
We recently discussed the gathering of Democratic politicians and media personalities at the University of Chicago to discuss how to better shape the news, combat “misinformation,” and re-educate those with conservative views. The political and media elite shared ideas on how to expand censorship and control what people read or see in the news. The same numbers now raise concerns that Elon Musk could gain greater influence on Twitter and, perish the idea, restore free speech protections to the site. The latest is former Secretary of Labor under President Clinton, Robert Reich, who wrote a perfectly Orwellian column in the Guardian titled “Elon Musk’s vision for the internet is dangerous nonsense.” However, the column offers insight into the anti-free speech mentality that has gripped the Democratic Party and the mainstream media.
Musk is an advocate for free speech on the internet. Like some of us, he is an internet originalist. This makes him an existential threat to those who have long used “misinformation” as an excuse to silence dissenting opinions in the media and on social media.
Twitter has gone from refusing to seek to shape speech on the Internet to adopting this function. After former Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey was criticized for his massive censorship efforts, Twitter replaced him with CEO Parag Agrawal, who expressed chilling sentiments against free speech. In an interview with Technology Review editor-in-chief Gideon Lichfield, he was asked how Twitter would balance its efforts to combat misinformation with a desire to “protect free speech as a fundamental value” and uphold the First Amendment. Agrawal replied;
“Our role is not to be bound by the First Amendment, but our role is to serve a healthy public conversation and our actions reflect things that we believe lead to a healthier public conversation. The kind of things we’re doing about it is focusing less on thinking about freedom of expression, but on how times have changed.
One of the changes we are seeing today is that speech is easy on the internet. Most people can talk. Where our role is particularly emphasized is who can be heard. The rare commodity today is attention. There’s a lot of content there. Lots of tweets there, not all attract attention, some subsets attract attention.
He added that Twitter would “evolve into the way we recommend content and…the way we direct people’s attention leads to a healthy, more engaged public conversation.”
Reich lays bare this agenda in his column while condemning free speech advocates as petty tyrants oppressing people with freedom.
Reich explains that it is not a question of freedom but of tyranny. More freedom of expression means less freedom. This is the type of argument commonly used in China and other authoritarian countries – and by a growing number of American scholars and writers. Indeed, his column recalls the professors who called for the adoption of the Chinese model of censoring opinions on the Internet.
In an article published in The Atlantic by Harvard law professor Jack Goldsmith and University of Arizona law professor Andrew Keane Woods called for Chinese-style internet censorship, stating that “in the great debate two decades of freedom versus network control, China was largely right and the United States was largely wrong.”
Reich tells people not to be fooled by free speech: “Musk says he wants to ‘liberate’ the internet. But what he really aims to do is make him even less accountable than he is now. What Reich calls “responsibility” is being accountable to those who, like himself, can filter out opinions and writings deemed harmful to readers.
Reich then becomes completely Orwellian:
“Musk advocates freedom of expression but really it’s just about power. Power coerced Musk into buying $2.64 billion worth of Twitter stock, making him the largest individual shareholder.
Reich insists that censoring opinions like former President Donald Trump is “necessary to protect American democracy.” To find? Less freedom is more freedom.
The column grows increasingly bizarre as Reich cites the fact that Musk has continued to express forbidden thoughts as evidence that he is a threat:
“Billionaires like Musk have shown time and time again that they consider themselves above the law. And to a large degree, they are. wrists, and enough power to control one of the most important ways the public now gets information. Think about it: After years of posting tweets that circumvent the law, Musk got a seat on the board of Twitter (and is probably negotiating for even more clout).
Reich then delivers his terrifying warning:
“It’s Musk’s dream. And Trump’s. And Putin’s. And the dream of every modern-day dictator, strongman, demagogue and robber baron on Earth. For the rest of us, it would be a brave new nightmare.
This nightmare, of course, is freedom of expression. It is a nightmare that people like Reich and those of the “Disinformation Conference” lose control of the media and social networks.
Imagine a site where people are largely free to express themselves without supervision or approval. What a nightmare.
[Warning foul language and full irony]