I Thought Libertarians were for Freedom of Speech

So, why are the libertarians on “the website that shall not be named” arguing in favor of the tech companies colluding to deplatform Alex Jones? I do believe there is a difference between a baker or other small business refusing service to a customer and a social media platform who advertises to be a public forum. These companies didn’t make the content, all they do is allow the content a platform to present it.

Anyway, I am confused as I thought libertarians would see the difference. Also one who says they are for Freedom of Speech, might actually be a WEE bit concerned to see these social media platforms collude to wipe clean any trace of ideas they believe to be “offensive” meanwhile allowing other content which is arguably worse content to remain. Just saying.

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99 thoughts on “I Thought Libertarians were for Freedom of Speech”

  1. Because they are limited in their strategic thinking. Remember, they are the same people who ignored SoCons when SoCons said that SSM would lead to people being forced to accept and participate in SSM.

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  2. This is true, and the keep saying that the slippery slope is a fallacy. Do they not have eye balls? Hello!!!! that slope is greased up and we keep slipping faster and faster.

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  3. Libertarians are generally opposed to any government suppression of speech or compulsion of speech.  (An example of compelled speech is California trying to force pro-life women’s crisis centres to inform clients of abortion providers.)

    Libertarians are very wary of any attempts to control the behaviour of private companies.  For many years, the U.S. Federal Communications Commission (FCC) used its power to license access to the broadcast spectrum to enforce content restrictions on broadcasters, notably the “fairness doctrine” which was in effect from 1949 through 1987.  They also required radio stations to broadcast news programming even though their audiences considered it worthless and annoying.  It was only after the fairness doctrine was abolished that the modern AM talk radio scene emerged.

    Platforms like Twitter and Facebook have taken the position, successfully so far, that they are common carriers like the telephone network, as opposed to publishers, and are therefore content-neutral.  In return, the federal government has granted broad exemptions from liability for content published on their platforms.  See Phil Turmel’s comment on the Alex Jones post and subsequent discussion for details.  By choosing to explicitly restrict access to their platforms based upon content, they are putting themselves into the position of a publisher, not a common carrier, and in so doing expose themselves to forms of liability from which they’ve been shielded so far.  It may be that whatever you think of the political consequences of explicit and acknowledged filtering, it may be a very bad business decision for these companies.  Imagine lawsuits from victims or their families of an attack by a jihadi recruited by a Facebook page.

    The libertarian approach assumes there are multiple providers in a free market.  Since there are a multitude of bakers, compelling one baker to bake an offensive cake is abhorrent.  If one provider becomes an effective or absolute monopoly (for example AT&T before the break-up in the 1980s), then it can be expected to be subject to regulation to keep it from behaving capriciously (for example, Ma Bell refusing to install telephone service for Republican campaign headquarters [this never happened; it’s just a hypothetical]).

    The question is whether platforms such as YouTube, Twitter, Facebook, etc. are effective monopolies.  Certainly they are not absolute or sanctioned monopolies—all have competitors—for example Vimeo for YouTube and Gab for Twitter.  But the network effect is powerful: the value of a network to its users increases faster than linearly as the number of users increases.  This makes it difficult to establish an alternative to a large existing platform.

    There is something of a conspiracy theory among some libertarians I follow that goes like this.  These big platforms are increasingly behaving outrageously and in a partisan fashion in order to invite regulation as a common carrier.  This would provide an official government sanction of their monopoly position and make it impossible for competitors to enter the market, since a small start-up could not afford the costs of the regulatory burden.  I’m not sure if that’s the deliberate plan, but it may be the outcome in any case.  Regulation would, of course, allow the deep state to take control of access to the platforms, just as the FCC did for broadcasting.  I don’t think anybody who has had experience with the FCC (I have a general radiotelephone operator licence issued by them) thinks that is a good idea.

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  4. John Walker, your fellow “Libertarians” (as that is how they identify if they actually are then who knows) have not argued your position. They are arguing the position that these are private companies and allowed to do what they want, which is true. However, as you noted in your excellent comment these companies have exposed themselves and opened themselves up for the possibility of regulation. Bad move, better to have just left Alex Jones where he was. Also his claim that the Sandy Hook Massacre being fake was made years and he wasn’t taken down then. So that is not the reason they did this.

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  5. Isn’t the Ron Paul Institute a libertarian group? Weren’t they banned recently too?

    Not one of these libertarians ever spoke up as far as I could tell when viewpoints other than their own were silenced. Censorship doesn’t matter if it happens to the other guy.

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  6. Mate De:
    John Walker, your fellow “Libertarians” (as that is how they identify if they actually are then who knows) have not argued your position. They are arguing the position that these are private companies and allowed to do what they want, which is true. However, as you noted in your excellent comment these companies have exposed themselves and opened themselves up for the possibility of regulation. Bad move, better to have just left Alex Jones where he was. Also his claim that the Sandy Hook Massacre being fake was made years and he wasn’t taken down then. So that is not the reason they did this.

    Since when has it happened that on the same day two or more independent companies have acted in this fashion. I can see one company doing things and in a piecemeal fashion but why this?

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  7. Mate De:
    John Walker, your fellow “Libertarians” (as that is how they identify if they actually are then who knows) have not argued your position.

    There are lots of people who call themselves “libertarians” who I do not consider to be genuine libertarians.  Here is the definition I use.  There’s a whole book about its implications.

    One such person is law professor Richard Epstein, who calls himself (and his podcast) libertarian, but who I consider a classical liberal.  I do, however, often agree with his view of things.  Here is an episode of his podcast, “The Libertarian”,  from 2018-08-02 on the issues of free speech and regulation of big tech.

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  8. This goes to show the lie that having private roads would be better. Libertarians of a certain  stripe have been in favor of this. Now we know they would have no problem having those roads being shut down for people of opposing beliefs. The tech companies control the roads of the Information Highway and have decided to bar certain “vehicles”.

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  9. 10 Cents:
    This goes to show the lie that having private roads would be better. Libertarians of a certain  stripe have been in favor of this. Now we know they would have no problem having those roads being shut down for people of opposing beliefs. The tech companies control the roads of the Information Highway and have decided to bar certain “vehicles”.

    Exactly.

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  10. John Walker:

    Mate De:
    John Walker, your fellow “Libertarians” (as that is how they identify if they actually are then who knows) have not argued your position.

    There are lots of people who call themselves “libertarians” who I do not consider to be genuine libertarians.  Here is the definition I use.  There’s a whole book about its implications.

    One such person is law professor Richard Epstein, who calls himself (and his podcast) libertarian, but who I consider a classical liberal.  I do, however, often agree with his view of things.  Here is an episode of his podcast, “The Libertarian”,  from 2018-08-02 on the issues of free speech and regulation of big tech.

    I’ll check out the podcast, and I agree with you the Libertarian label is overused.

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  11. I am for the free market but if there is a few companies that have huge amounts of the market. Aren’t they monopolies that need to be broken up?

    There are laws for newspapers, radio, and TV. Those laws are to protect the free exchange of ideas. These modern Internet giants are the modern “printing presses”.

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  12. John Walker:

    Mate De:
    John Walker, your fellow “Libertarians” (as that is how they identify if they actually are then who knows) have not argued your position.

    There are lots of people who call themselves “libertarians” who I do not consider to be genuine libertarians.  Here is the definition I use.  There’s a whole book about its implications.

    One such person is law professor Richard Epstein, who calls himself (and his podcast) libertarian, but who I consider a classical liberal.  I do, however, often agree with his view of things.  Here is an episode of his podcast, “The Libertarian”,  from 2018-08-02 on the issues of free speech and regulation of big tech.

    In 1972, a reporter asked USC philosophy Prof. John Hospers, the new Libertarian Party’s first presidential candidate, what he would do for the reporter if elected.  “I’ll leave you alone,” was Hospers’ reply.

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  13. FWIW, I’ve heard Epstein describe himself as more of a classical liberal on his podcast and discuss what he views as the distinction between a classical liberal and a libertarian.

    I don’t think he discussed why the podcast is called the Libertarian versus the “Classical Liberal” but I assume for part of the same reason I call myself a classical liberal – it confuses the typical American liberal.

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  14. 10 Cents:
    This goes to show the lie that having private roads would be better.

    The railroads and airlines are privately owned, and in the case of railroads, often effective monopolies within their route system.  But they cannot deny service to customers on non-safety grounds because they are regulated common carriers.  A privately-owned road (they exist—there was one to the summit of the mountain behind my house up until 2011 when the commune took it over—you used to have to pay CHF 5 to use it) is also a common carrier (or, in civil code jurisdictions like Switzerland, “civil carrier”) and similarly cannot discriminate among users.

    The issue isn’t whether the tech infrastructure should be owned and operated by the government (anybody who’s ever dealt with a monopoly PTT knows how hideously bad an idea that is), but rather whether private firms should be regulated as common carriers.

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  15. I read the post you’re talkin’ about.  Of course I was dying to crush the head of pale viper!  She totally bruised my heel.  But the fact is I’ve never seen/heard Alex Jones, so, for all I know,  he’s David Duke; thought I better stay out…..O Ratty is he worth protecting?

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  16. Cyrano:
    In 1972, a reporter asked USC philosophy Prof. John Hospers, the new Libertarian Party’s first presidential candidate, what he would do for the reporter if elected.  “I’ll leave you alone,” was Hospers’ reply.

    Libertarians—the plan revealed

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  17. John Walker:

    10 Cents:
    This goes to show the lie that having private roads would be better.

    The railroads and airlines are privately owned, and in the case of railroads, often effective monopolies within their route system.  But they cannot deny service to customers on non-safety grounds because they are regulated common carriers.  A privately-owned road (they exist—there was one to the summit of the mountain behind my house up until 2011 when the commune took it over—you used to have to pay CHF 5 to use it) is also a common carrier (or, in civil code jurisdictions like Switzerland, “civil carrier”) and similarly cannot discriminate among users.

    The issue isn’t whether the tech infrastructure should be owned and operated by the government (anybody who’s ever dealt with a monopoly PTT knows how hideously bad an idea that is), but rather whether private firms should be regulated as common carriers.

    Thank you for these important points.

    Unless there are “common carrier” safeguards private roads are a danger if the whims of the owners can shut them down to certain groups.

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  18. Hypatia:
    I read the post you’re talkin’ about.  Of course I was dying to crush the head of pale viper!  She totally bruised my heel.  But the fact is I’ve never seen/heard Alex Jones, so, for all I know,  he’s David Duke; thought I better stay out…..O Ratty is he worth protecting?

    The principle is worth protecting. No one knows when one’s views will be judged offensive. Too many people are already equated to Nazis and the KKK who are the polar opposites of those groups.

    The question is not who to protect but who gets to decide and by what criteria.

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  19. 10 Cents:

    Hypatia:
    I read the post you’re talkin’ about.  Of course I was dying to crush the head of pale viper!  She totally bruised my heel.  But the fact is I’ve never seen/heard Alex Jones, so, for all I know,  he’s David Duke; thought I better stay out…..O Ratty is he worth protecting?

    The principle is worth protecting. No one knows when one’s views will be judged offensive. Too many people are already equated to Nazis and the KKK who are the polar opposites of those groups.

    The question is not who to protect but who gets to decide and by what criteria.

    Yeah I get that of course–but still, I would not want to come to the defense of Certain views, (Jeong, Holocaust deniers) regardless of the principle.  That’s just me personally.

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  20. Hypatia:

    10 Cents:

    Hypatia:
    I read the post you’re talkin’ about.  Of course I was dying to crush the head of pale viper!  She totally bruised my heel.  But the fact is I’ve never seen/heard Alex Jones, so, for all I know,  he’s David Duke; thought I better stay out…..O Ratty is he worth protecting?

    The principle is worth protecting. No one knows when one’s views will be judged offensive. Too many people are already equated to Nazis and the KKK who are the polar opposites of those groups.

    The question is not who to protect but who gets to decide and by what criteria.

    Yeah I get that of course–but still, I would not want to come to the defense of Certain views, (Jeong, Holocaust deniers) regardless of the principle.  That’s just me personally.

    I think that is most people.

    So what is your principle to allow or disallow free expression?

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  21. Hypatia:
    Yeah I get that of course–but still, I would not want to come to the defense of Certain views, (Jeong, Holocaust deniers) regardless of the principle.

    Nobody’s asking anybody to defend any particular person or idea.  But the whole point of the principle is that once you accept blocking speech because some people find it offensive, you’ve opened the door to blocking almost anything, because there will always be strident, perpetually-offended, people who will claim it should also be shut down.  As many have reminded the suave, establishment pundits who accept this ban, “They’re coming next for you.”

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  22. As an aside, the conservative vs. libertarian discussions that periodically pop up here seem to miss a crucial point:

    The Euclidean distance between a conservative and libertarian is a whole lot smaller than that between either and a “progressive”.  Furthermore, the “progressive” ideology is simultaneously anti-conservative and anti-libertarian, so we have a common enemy.  Thus, we should take pains to find common ground amongst us, and not seek to swell relatively small differences.

    Or, as my Irish grandmother used to say: “Don’t cut your nose to spite your face.”

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  23. I find myself on the opposite side on this issue of the vast majority of fellow HW’s at the other place, and maybe here as well.  I’ll try to state my case here briefly.

    I honestly don’t see where Alex Jones’s freedom of speech is being taken away or how he’s being censored due to his Infowars channel being dropped from several online platforms.  The Alex Jones show is still on the air, he can be heard in the public square, both on the air and directly via his website.  He is free to say what he wants (short of defamation and the rest).

    The social media platforms are universally leftist, we all know that, and I agree the double standard here is sickening.  I said elsewhere that it should have the hairs on our necks standing up and we should stay vigilant.  And if this really is the tip of the iceberg, the answer (to me at least) is to let the market punish their behavior by allowing more balanced platforms to grow as conservatives leave and take their clicks/dollars elsewhere.

    One debate seems to be whether the socials are really private entities or more like public common carriers, I don’t think any amount of comments on that will get us to a definitive answer, as shown by 400+ comments at the other place.  Ultimately it will be up to the courts I suppose, till then my default is that they remain private and can drop or pickup whatever channel they want.

    Another debate is Alex Jones, is this about him or the principal of free speech?  I’ve already stated that I don’t get the freedom of speech argument, so I then need to look at the individual.  The argument that this isn’t really about Alex Jones might be argued against as well.  Maybe in this case, it really is about the individual.  If you do a little digging into his comments on Sandy Hook, a reasonable case could be made that parts of his show were so over the top and even dangerous that it became indefensible, the socials define it as hate speech, with some fans showing up at innocent people’s houses, death threats, etc…

    So to sum up:

    I can’t defend him on an individual basis, and I don’t see how his freedom of speech is being taken away, so I find myself unable to get as fired about this as my peers.    For the record I am a Reagan/Trump conservative, not a libertarian.

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