Americans live in a time when the need for productive civil discourse has perhaps never been more urgent. Yet at the same time, there are increasing efforts to shut out certain widely held views and ideas both online and in our communities.
The Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF) appreciates the leadership of the House Judiciary Committee’s subcommittee on the Constitution and civil justice in fostering a commitment to robust debate and dialogue.
The ADF, too, is committed to cultivating a society typified by the free exchange of ideas and respect and tolerance for those with whom we disagree. These deeply rooted constitutional principles are essential in a diverse society like ours. They enable us to peacefully coexist with each other.
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Sadly, several of the most influential technology giants — many of which are integral to the daily lives of millions of Americans — are endangering the vitality of these core American principles.
Silicon Valley’s digital gatekeepers have frequently represented themselves as an open marketplace of ideas that supports free expression. But as I have shown in congressional testimony, they have broken their promises by restricting digital conservative and religious speech over and over again.
Their recent push to restrict what they call “hate speech” exacerbates this threat because, invariably, Silicon Valley and others apply the hate speech label to traditional, widely held views they disagree with on a wide range of important topics, such as immigration, abortion, marriage, and sexuality.
These companies further intensify the threat to conservative and religious speech by collaborating with biased advocacy groups like the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) to enforce their “hate speech” policies.
Commentators across the political spectrum agree that SPLC is a biased, agenda-driven activist group. The Wall Street Journal’s Kimberley Strassel wrote that SPLC “exists to smear conservatives” and “tags you as a hater” if it “doesn’t agree with your views.”
And left-of-center Politico published an article in which it noted the longstanding criticism that SPLC is “becoming more of a partisan progressive hit operation than a civil rights watchdog.”
The SPLC’s credibility took another enormous hit recently when it issued a public apology and paid nearly $3.5 million to settle a threatened defamation lawsuit by Muslim reformer Maajid Nawaz, who SPLC had wrongly labeled an “anti-Muslim extremist.”
“These companies further intensify the threat to conservative and religious speech by collaborating with biased advocacy groups like the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) to enforce their ‘hate speech’ policies.”
Yet knowing SPLC’s clear bias and partisanship, tech companies continue collectively to partner with SPLC and embrace its intentional smear campaign against widely held conservative and religious views held by millions.
These actions contradict these companies’ promises to cultivate civil discourse and the free exchange of ideas, and deceive the members of their online communities and consumers who rely on these promises.
The ADF has already been the victim of this troubling arrangement. Earlier this year, Amazon excluded ADF from the Amazon Smile program, which promises customers they can donate a small percentage of their purchases to “the charitable organization of your choice.” This was done solely because SPLC wrongly labels ADF a “hate group.”
Amazon likewise bars many other conservative and religious charities by relying on SPLC’s biased “hate groups” label. This is only the tip of the iceberg on how these companies can impact the marketplace.
We know from recent news that they sometimes act in concert, excluding disfavored speakers from multiple platforms at once. The power they wield over free expression and information access is deeply troubling and has real-world consequences for those caught in the crosshairs.
We understand that there are no easy solutions to these issues. But at a minimum, Congress should hold additional hearings and use its considerable influence to encourage Silicon Valley companies to abide by their representations.
They shouldn’t promise an open and robust marketplace of ideas but then collaborate with biased and discredited groups like the SPLC to shut down one side of an ideological debate.
Jeremy Tedesco is vice president for advocacy for the Alliance Defending Freedom. This op-ed is adapted from his testimony before the House Judiciary Committee’s subcommittee on the Constitution and civil justice.
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