Radio Free Asia is a US funded broadcasting corporation whose stated mission is “to provide accurate and timely news and information to Asian countries whose governments prohibit access to a free press.”According to Wikipedia, it is based on Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, and was established in the 1990s with the aim of promoting democratic values and human rights, and diminishing Chinese Communist control. With social media surpassing print newspapers for the first time as a means for US consumers to get their news, inherent bias and outright censorship in social media and other tech company platforms almost begs the question of whether we will eventually need a “Radio Free America” here in the states to provide a non-censored source of news, just as Radio Free Asia provides to communist and despotic countries in Asia.
Speaking with a friend and fellow blogger, Marv Langston, he noted that he switched to YouTube to get all of his television shows (like many others who are cable cutting to save costs) but that YouTube censors certain FoxNews shows so he now can’t watch them. In a similar fashion, Prager University (PragerU) has sued YouTube for blocking over 200 of its videos, and demonetizing many others. The offensive material from PragerU’s videos that demanded censorship from public view includes videos titled “Why America Must Lead,” “The Ten Commandments: Do Not Murder,” “Why Did America Fight the Korean War,” and “The World’s Most Persecuted Minority: Christians.” Hardly the stuff of nightmares and dark parts of the human mind, and hard to imagine them requiring censorship by any impartial arbiter.
This is certainly part of an overall conversation occurring nationwide about whether tech companies that have assumed the role of news venues should be required to abide by the First Amendment and allow their viewers to see everything that is posted, or whether they should determine what they will show the viewers based upon their own selections. Private companies certainly are not required to put forth views with which they disagree, but tech companies have aggressively and vociferously fought against being designated as “publishers”, vs “platforms”, to try to avoid any accountability for the bias of their content.
As noted by Senator Ted Cruz in the City Journal:
” While the First Amendment generally does not apply to private companies, the Supreme Court has held it “does not disable the government from taking steps to ensure that private interests not restrict . . . the free flow of information and ideas.” As Senator Ted Cruz points out, Congress actually has the power to deter political censorship by social media companies without using government coercion or taking action that would violate the First Amendment, in letter or spirit. Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act immunizes online platforms for their users’ defamatory, fraudulent, or otherwise unlawful content. Congress granted this extraordinary benefit to facilitate “forum[s] for a true diversity of political discourse.” This exemption from standard libel law is extremely valuable to the companies that enjoy its protection, such as Google, Facebook, and Twitter, but they only got it because it was assumed that they would operate as impartial, open channels of communication—not curators of acceptable opinion. When questioning Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg earlier this month, and in a subsequent op-ed, Cruz reasoned that ‘in order to be protected by Section 230, companies like Facebook should be ‘neutral public forums.’ On the flip side, they should be considered to be a ‘publisher or speaker’ of user content if they pick and choose what gets published or spoken.'”
Senator Cruz, from a legal and constitutional standpoint, has a valid argument that will likely end up at the Supreme court in the next 18 months. From a practical standpoint, however, if a tech company uses its power and monopoly to become the primary provider of news and information to the vast majority of the U.S. public, do we as a society want that company to determine what we see or don’t see? Is there a real difference between the state owned media in China and Cuba censoring anything that could be considered against the interests of the ruling party and Google and Facebook censoring anything that they as corporations consider to be against their interests or beliefs? It’s a different bureaucracy and set of people, but neither determining group was elected. There is an argument that anyone who uses YouTube or Facebook as their channel for news is effectively “electing” to have that company determine what it will see, but if that’s the case then those companies must be completely transparent about what it is that they censor and don’t censor before allowing anyone to sign up for their services. Simply burying this language in the EULA (which no one ever reads) is not sufficient. There should be a requirement to allow an opposing point of view from content providers who were censored and a readily available list of all censored items so that subscribers can easily determine what they will be missing when they “elect” the employees of these tech companies to determine what the consumer will be allowed to see. Subscribers should also be provided a continuing list of notifications of what exactly is censored by these tech companies so that they can make an informed decision as to whether they want to continue to use the tech company’s services and censorship or not. Transparency is critical here, but transparency is anathema to tech companies that would much prefer to do their censorship in back rooms and blame any high profile censoring incidents (e.g. Mitch McConnell’s Twitter account suspended) on “algorithms” and inscrutable “processes” rather than a particular person who didn’t want the public to see something with which they disagreed.
Granted, right now there are other places to see Fox News shows that Google censors, but if the major tech companies continue to expand their reach and potentially uses their market power to force other distributors of news to follow Silicon Valley’s more “woke” censoring standards, it’s conceivable in ten years that the only place to read Breitbart or see Fox News might be on Radio Free America, run on underground servers.